‘It’s exhausting’: Richland 2 nurses struggle to contact trace with rising COVID cases

‘It's exhausting’: Richland 2 nurses struggle to contact trace with rising COVID cases

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Schools are wrapping up their last week of classes before the holidays, but many kids in the Midlands won’t be heading back to the classroom immediately after Winter Break.

Some school districts made the call this week that they will be returning to virtual learning for at least a few days after the holidays.

“The past couple weeks since Thanksgiving, we have felt in the schools the spike that’s happened statewide,” Richland Two’s lead school nurse Dawn MacAdams said.

Richland School District Two is returning to e-learning for January 4-15. Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis stressed during a WIS roundtable that they were reaching a critical point in terms of staffing, with the biggest burden being placed on school nurses, who are working around the clock to contact trace.

Davis said the district has taken an aggressive approach when it comes to contact tracing, which means as soon as a positive case is reported, school nurses are hard at work to identify any close contacts.

MacAdams said that since Thanksgiving, the workload has been overwhelming with many nurses working until 8 or 9 o’clock at night trying to notify close contacts as quickly as possible.

“We’ve got to take a break,” MacAdams said. “We can’t keep working until 11 o’clock at night, sending stuff to DHEC, and coming in early in the morning, and starting over. It’s exhausting.”

The district has a COVID-19 dashboard, which shows there were 31 new positive cases and 177 close contacts between Dec 11-14. The strain on staff and school nurses is something Davis said played a role in their decision to return to virtual learning for the first two weeks of January.

“Our nurses are burning on both ends of the candle,” Davis said. “All the nurses in the school district are working on weekends. They worked over the Thanksgiving holiday.”

MacAdams said the district’s decision to go virtual for the first few weeks of January will provide much-needed relief to the school nurses’ load.

“By not coming back until after the Martin Luther King holiday, everyone will have completed all holiday travel and then we will have two weeks with e-learning, which will help with the spread from people who became contagious over the holidays,” MacAdams said.

The school district is also preparing to roll out rapid testing after the holidays. MacAdams said Richland 2 hopes to have that up and running by the end of January.

“We’re not going to do it in every school,” MacAdams said. “The nurses are already so burdened with contact tracing.”

“It will be administered at a site or two around the school district, probably in a tent,” Davis added.

MacAdams said they are looking into hiring a few sub nurses or partnering with Prisma Health for the rapid testing.

She said that students will need to be symptomatic in order to qualify for the rapid testing once it’s rolled out.

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