by Rachelle Schultz, EdD, Winona Health president/CEO
As our area educational institutions open up in various forms, the influence and reality of COVID-19 concerns continue to command our attention, whether we want it to or not. The excitement of heading out with one’s kids to get new school supplies, planning for bus pickups, or kids connecting with friends to learn teacher and class assignments has been dampened. Back-to-school “COVID style” shifts the usual anticipation into an entirely different space.
Our area leaders in education have had to make hard decisions about fall sports, class schedules, and in-person, online and hybrid models. They have had to develop contingency plans for a host of possibilities including positive cases or outbreaks. Knowing these leaders personally, I know each of them has spent countless hours with faculty and staff gathering input, evaluating options, considering multiple scenarios, and always, always putting student and faculty safety first.
I know this feeling, as we faced the same void of information, knowledge and experience across the health care industry as COVID-19 began its spread across the U.S. While much still remains unknown, there is a lot we do know now. And it has served us well these past months. This experience and knowledge will also serve our educational institutions well as school gets underway. Perhaps the one thing that we should all know and agree on upfront is that there is no one right answer, no one right way, and one size does not fit all. The start of school, in itself, will be a learning experience for us all.
I might suggest framing this situation using health care terminology: COVID is a chronic condition. What I mean by this is that COVID is going to be with us for some time. So, one unique aspect of this chronic condition is that we all have it; we all need to learn to live with it and figure out how to normalize our lives and manage this “condition.” Our current methods of management include hand hygiene, masking, physical distancing, as well as supplemental efforts such as testing and quarantining if one has symptoms or experienced an exposure. As we continue to learn more and effectively manage ourselves in the context of community, with some adjustment, we can get back to living our lives.
Whatever the school year brings, Winona Health is prepared to assist and support our area schools with the knowledge and expertise we’ve gained with our own experiences with COVID-19 and precautions to prevent its spread. We are working with school nurses, program leads and key staff to serve as a resource as they start up and evaluate how things are running. We will also be a resource for parents. The schools will maintain many of the same practices that we have in place for community members at Winona Health with masking, hand hygiene, physical distancing and so on. Additionally, all the same guidance will apply relative to any positive cases and potential or real exposures.
As the world continues to learn new information about timelines for infection, how the virus affects people differently, the potential for vaccines, and various testing options, we’ll each determine our comfort level with the activities we do and the places we go. I think it’s important to remember that we probably all want the same things. We want to keep our loved ones safe and healthy. We want our students of all ages to have a positive experience with school. And we want to foster a sense of normalcy as much as possible.
As we do what we can to safely enjoy these last weeks of summer and transition into what I hope will be a beautiful fall, we encourage you to get outside, to breathe deeply, and to take care of yourself and your family.