Answers have been difficult to come by for members of the West Ada Education Association throughout the COVID-19 public health crisis. The West Ada school board has not always listened to the advice of medical experts or the concerns of professional educators. The district did bring in renowned physician Dr. David Pate, the recently retired CEO of the St. Luke’s Health System, in an advisory capacity, and Dr. Pate’s work on revising the district’s safety plan is ongoing.
In an effort to provide members with accurate information about the transmission of COVID-19 in West Ada schools and the surrounding community, as well as about recommendations related to the safety plan and best practices, the WAEA asked Dr. Pate to participate in a virtual town. Dr. Pate graciously agreed to share his time and expertise, and more than 100 members joined the town hall. Members submitted several questions in advance and Dr. Pate discussed key concerns and information on several different topics related to keeping students and staff safe during the dangerous pandemic. His primary takeaway? If in-person school really is the top priority, then other activities need to be greatly reduced, and the community needs to take responsibility for slowing the spread of the virus.
Dr. Pate has also agreed to do another virtual town hall with IEA members across the state. The date for that town hall has yet to be determined, but early-mid December is being targeted.
Some of the highlights of the information Dr. Pate shared with WAEA members are included below:
Safety Plan, Audits, and Communication
- He wishes that medical professionals had been consulted earlier in the process. They have been playing catch-up and “drinking from a fire hose.”
- At roughly 70 pages, the district’s plan is too long and complex. Dr. Pate’s revised plan comes in at around 16 pages.
- Once a new plan is approved, he and his team of medical professionals have offered to build and oversee an audit plan where the ongoing effectiveness of the practices and policies is evaluated. The audits will not be punitive but would be focused on corrective action. The district has not yet accepted this offer, but it is anticipated they will do so.
- Crisis management requires trust, which is in short supply in this situation.
- Communication and transparency have been a problem. He has still not been provided with important documents and data. Communication with educators, parents, and patrons has been lacking, but he does see some progress in all these areas.
Athletics and Activities
- Sports and extracurricular activities are a tough call, but a major component in the spread of COVID-19.
- Extreme caution should be exercised in continuing any activity that is not essential to the main goal of in-person learning.
- It is a very difficult issue to deal with at the local level, but the state has been unwilling to step in and put restrictions on sports and activities.
- He is very concerned about sleepovers, parties, and other activities taking place among students, as well as large gatherings of people not following safety protocols.
- If people insist on holiday gatherings with people outside of their household, the case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths will increase even more.
Testing and Tracing
- Rapid COVID-19 tests are not very accurate. They could be used in a situation where serial testing is taking place but should not be relied on for random or sporadic testing.
- He would like to have more regular testing of high school students, as well as students and staff who are granted mask exceptions.
- Contact tracing is very important but becomes more challenging with the rapidly growing number of cases.
- If someone tests positive for COVID-19 they should isolate for at least 10 days. Close contact with someone who tests positive should quarantine for 14 days.
- Face shields are not effective in preventing airborne transmission of COVID-19. They are used by medical professionals to block fluids being expelled by patients undergoing procedures.
- Face shields should not be worn without also wearing a face mask.
- Face shields should not be worn as a matter of preference or convenience.