On Dec. 21, the Watertown-Mayer School Board met for their final meeting of the year to discuss several items. Among these was an update from the district nurse, Melissa Brandts, on the COVID-19 cases.

As part of the plan outlined by Governor Walz way back in August of 2020, districts had to assign a “District COVID Coordinator”. Brandts, as the middle and high school nurse, was chosen to be this coordinator, though those weren’t the only reasons according to Darren Schuler, superintendent. As part of this meeting, Brandts presented on the first five months of the school year, the experiences with COVID, and how everything was handled as the coordinator.

“It has not been a boring year,” she said. “It’s been something new everyday, just about! It’s really been a team effort.”

One of the big changes, according to Brandts, was the middle and high school health offices were separated to limit contact between students as much as possible. The middle school now as a dedicated nursing office as a result, along with two full time nurses for the schools as a whole. Of course with everything going on, Brandts stated that “it’s been an all-hands-on-deck year” for all the health and nursing staff.

As part of that mind set, Brandt and the staff have been working hard to keep students and staff healthy through the year. Part of the plan for all schools was families working with health staff throughout the year regarding students at the school. For example, if a student came down with COVID symptoms, families were asked to notify nursing staff about the student’s condition. This allowed them to know what class the student was in and prepare other families in regards to resting and quarantine procedures.

What really helped in this process were the families themselves, who went above and beyond, according to Brandts.

“For the most part, families have been really fantastic with [screening],” she said. “That’s the first step in mitigating the risk is making sure kids aren’t coming to school sick.”

Of course, this did present challenges. Since COVID symptoms have a wide range, just displaying one symptom meant a student and their siblings were sent home until a diagnosis was made. This was, understandably, a hard ask, but according to Brandts, families made it work when necessary. Another challenge were changes to policies and plans throughout the year. Thankfully, the health team worked with representatives from the county and state to help adjust to any updates.

As for cases, the school is a reflection of the trends in Carver County. According to Brandt, there was a small uptick around Thanksgiving, which was true for the county as well, and the school has followed the same downward swing as the county since. All in all, there were 15 cases among staff and 36 among students, totaling at 51 confirmed cases in the district as a whole.

“We of course know from our staff because they tell us, and for the students we know the majority of the cases from their families, which is fantastic,” she said.

According to Brandts the school has been quite lucky and hasn’t needed to perform large quarantines like others in the state. When multiple people have been exposed, the school would do their best to individually call families and write up letters to keep them in the loop about the situation.

As for the next few months, health staff and Brandt are already working with the Minnesota Department of Health and County to help keep things ready for the plans ahead. While the CDC has issued new guidelines for shortened quarantine with exposure, this is an optional side of things. As an option, the health teams were discussing the possibility of having the shortened quarantine. As of time of writing, no public schools have implemented the shortened quarantined protocols.

With all that information in mind, Schuler thanked Brandt’s efforts throughout the year. A few updates for 2021 include face shields for teachers, masks to be worn at all times, including during PE, and lunches being served in the classroom which Watertown-Mayer was already doing.

The other board members thanked Brandt for her update regarding COVID safety operations on Watertown-Mayer, and her and staff’s continued efforts moving forward.

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