(WJHL) — After the holidays, many school districts in the Tri-Cities have phased out their second week of classes into the new year.
But as the week progresses, COVID-19 cases have risen among students, faculty and staff.
“I think during the pandemic, anytime after a break, everyone expects an increase — an increase in positive cases,” said Dr. Jerry Boyd, Superintendent of Washington County Schools.
“We did, we expected a wave with Omicron,” repeated Dr. Steve Barnett, Superintendent of Johnson City City Schools.
Since the end of Wednesday Johnson City Schools counted 146 students and 20 teachers with COVID-19. Washington County Schools reported an active total of 105 combined students and teachers with the virus.
“We probably didn’t experience the kind of rise we expected,” Boyd said.
Kingsport City Schools saw a total of 148 new cases across the district in the first three days of the week.
“We expected that overall, the number of cases in our school systems will always reflect the community,” said Kingsport City Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Andy True. “So to see an increase right now isn’t surprising — given what we’re seeing around us in our community.”
From teachers and support staff for bus drivers and cafeteria staff, keeping schools fully staffed has been the biggest challenge.
Replacement teachers are very much in demand, but not always available. In that case, healthy instructors were called upon to increase their workload.
“We have a fair number of replacements, but we also need to ask teachers and other staff to fill in,” Barnett said.
“It changes every day,” True said. “Our teachers do a phenomenal job for each other every day when we have these situations.”
“Right now, the schools continue to treat it like champions, but it’s a daily struggle to make sure we have enough adults in the building,” Boyd said.
All three districts noted that COVID-19 is taking its toll on ongoing staff shortages, but all three also explained that the virus isn’t the only thing keeping workers at home.
“At this time of year, we have seasonal illnesses that are currently nearly as high as the number of COVID-19 — if not even higher,” Boyd said. “With the flu and strep [throat] and GI issues that come in the winter or at any time, we see that a lot too. ”
“In the past, in pre-COVID, we as a district have had short-term shutdowns due to staffing levels,” said True. “In general, it had to do with the flu. We want to continue to monitor things like that for the time being.”
Some inspectors remain cautiously optimistic about future relief.
“We’re looking at it day by day, week by week, but I really think we’re going to see this improve in the coming weeks,” Barnett said. “I’m not basing that on intuition or just how I feel — I’ve really tried to pay attention to medical professionals and when they feel like this wave is going to peak.”
However, everyone remains prepared for what is possible.
“We should plan to deal with this deficit indefinitely,” Boyd said. “Like I said, it was a problem even before COVID, but it’s definitely worse now.”