Covid staffers join district to help manage pandemic response


Anna Rafferty

School bookkeeper Alex Coffman checks students in for surveillance testing. According to district policy, teachers and staff are tested twice weekly while students who have a signed permission form are tested twice-weekly.

Anna Rafferty

Atlanta Public Schools recently announced it is hiring 26 COVID-dedicated staffers to assist in managing the effects of the pandemic.

This includes 20 case investigators who will assist with close-contact tracing and notifications at a school level, five help desk operators who will be available on an administration support line and a district epidemiologist.

“The District Epidemiologist will collaborate with school administrators, school nurses, public health partners and [an] internal data team to support surveillance and contact investigation related to COVID-19 and other communicable diseases and chronic conditions,” a presentation by Dr. Katika Lovett, associate superintendent of student services, said.

District 3 school board representative Michelle Olympiadis weighed in on the importance of mitigating the overall effects of the pandemic. “We are working closely with the Fulton County and DeKalb County Departments of Health to try to do the best we can,” Olympiadis said.

Junior William Sanders was surprised APS is putting the measures in place.

“Atlanta Public Schools is not normally at the forefront of anything,” Sanders said. “They tend to just do pretty generic school moves.”

Social studies teacher Mary Van Atta was more expectant of a move like this.

“I know that APS has sought to be on the forefront of using science during the pandemic to help deal with and combat the pandemic,” Van Atta said.

Nurse Wanda Taylor is hopeful the new positions will alleviate some pressure for those currently handling the pandemic, including school health staff and administrators.

“[The positions] will be a help to the nurses and the nurses will be relieved of some stress of managing these cases,” Taylor said.

While Taylor notices these struggles at Midtown, she sees them more in other APS schools.

“I am fortunate [that] here at Midtown, we have a few staff members [who] have been assisting me with the close contact letters going out and keeping track of who is in quarantine and who is not,” Taylor said. “We have a good plan here at [Midtown], but some other schools, some of my other peers, they’re really struggling.”

Van Atta is optimistic but recognizes that poor execution could cause harm. She believes the information must be used properly to ensure school safety.

Olympiadis notes the importance of proper execution.

“We have the right idea in place, and we are just trying to be proactive in our approach to create safe schools,” Olympiadis said. “I would think that plenty of thought has been given to this, and this is an innovative solution to help us create safe schools.”

While these measures will provide some relief, students also play a part in keeping everyone safe.

“They need to just obey the rules,” Sanders said. “They [the school administrators] set them and if people [students] don’t follow them if people do not wear their mask, it doesn’t mean anything.”

Taylor has also noticed a lack of proper protective measures taken by students.

“Everyone refuses to social distance,” Taylor said. “That’s number one because you have your mask on, and you miss your friends for a whole year and now everyone is just all on top of each other, and then the students … do not want to keep their masks on.”

The hiring process has begun, but roadblocks are expected.

“We already know that medical roles are abundant and in demand, so yes, I would think it is going to be a bit of a challenge for us to get to the right spot,” Olympiadis said.