Keeping OHS safe from COVID-19 requires a lot of work


Avery Neal

Mr. Brian Brennan spends a lot of his time working on contact tracing to keep the school safe.

With COVID-19 playing a big role in this school year, contact tracing has been a priority to keep everyone safe. Now that most students are back on campus five days a week, plenty of people are still being quarantined. Although the cases are going down and more people are getting vaccinated, there are still many challenges.

 “It is very challenging for students and teachers,” said senior principal Brian Brennan. “It is hard for the teachers to teach in both in person and virtual formats at the same time. There are many who are also involved in extracurricular activities that they cannot participate in for the period of time they are off campus. That is very frustrating for people as well.” 

In the week of April 26 through May 2, there were six new positive cases in the building, and 57 students were told to remain off campus. That still sounds high, but it is a step forward compared to what it used to be. In the month of February, 139 students and staff were told to remain off campus, the most of the year. 

Since returning to school in January, contact tracing began to help keep everyone safe. To date, OHS has had 762 instances of students being either positive or being exposed to a primary case. Each day, the numbers differ. With all of the chaos going on with the pandemic, it’s hard to imagine the headaches and struggle the students, principals, nurses, and teachers go through.

“We are trying to encourage high schoolers to really be in tune with their health this year,” said OHS nurse Colleen Stebe. “Do your health screening each morning before you come to school, and be honest with the health room nurses about your health and lifestyle.”

Contact tracing has also kept the principals busy. 

“Some of the scenarios we have encountered while tracing have been frustrating,” Brennan said.  “I would hope people would be more considerate of others when they are symptomatic. We have had quite a few students who we had to quarantine because someone came to school even though they were experiencing symptoms. It is really challenging for teachers when they have students in both formats. Trying to keep everyone engaged and active is a real challenge.”

We want kids to be in school learning. COVID does cause multiple frustrations such as having to quarantine due to exposures, but the guidelines are there to keep us in person, learning, and healthy.

— Colleen Stebe

“We want kids to be in school learning,” Stebe added. “COVID does cause multiple frustrations such as having to quarantine due to exposures, but the guidelines are there to keep us in person, learning, and healthy. If students appear sick this year, we have to be extra cautious in sending those students home and encourage them to see a physician before they can return to school to help keep everyone safe and in school.”

Mehlville School District superintendent Dr. Chris Gaines recently sent an email updating the contact tracing guidelines. “Currently, students are asked to remain off campus for 10 days if they are identified as a close contact to someone who tests positive for COVID-19,” the email states. “A close contact is anyone who during the course of a day spends a combined 15 minutes within six feet of someone with COVID-19. Starting today, there will be modifications to that protocol.

“Under new St. Louis County guidance, students who are identified as close contacts may be able to continue to attend school if all of these conditions are met: 

  1.  The student was identified as a close contact following an exposure at school. Students may not attend school during their quarantine period if they were in close contact with someone with COVID-19 outside of school.

  2. The person who was positive for COVID-19 did not exhibit respiratory symptoms while at school.

  3. The positive individual and the close contact were both wearing face coverings or were socially distanced.

  4. The close contact does not have symptoms,” Gaines stated.

OHS held Moderna vaccination clinics for over 600 Mehlville staff members (March 19 and April 16). Having that many more people vaccinated gives the school hope for a more normal healthy future for everyone. Administrators hope that in the future, most of the students of the Mehlville School District will be able to get vaccinated as well. To keep up with COVID-19 contact tracing information, visit COVID-19 Data Dashboard