Mason City Schools introduces new quarantine options to combat COVID

Meghan Dincler | Online Editor

Mason City Schools Superintendent Jonathan Cooper goes through the rapid testing process, the same process that is currently available to the students in quarantine at Mason High School.

Two hundred and seventy six days since March 13. 276 days since the announcement of the first quarantine. Now, Mason High School is slowly becoming more and more equipped to combat the Coronavirus. 

As the country receives more information on COVID, the quarantine options fluctuate. Now, Mason City Schools is giving students three different quarantine options.The first option of a 14 day quarantine remains the same. However, there are two new options for students. There’s a ten day quarantine option available, as long as students monitor their symptoms until the 14 day point. There is also a seven day quarantine option, where students can return to school if they have a negative COVID test on day 5, 6, or 7 of their quarantine. 

With so many changes, the Mason School Board has had to adapt to the new restrictions put in place by the Center for Disease Control and the Warren County Health Department. Mason City Schools Superintendent Johnathan Cooper had to work on some of these adaptations, and the problems the school board has had to fix in order to keep in person school running smoothly.

“It’s definitely a challenge because it changed overnight,” Cooper said. “We have to go back and make sure our data systems are all aligned with that [the new quarantine options]. We have to go back and add new code and find a way to track it so we know when each student is coming back, and we have a system for going in and checking the positive or negative test and confirming the results before a kid can come back to school.”

COVID has thrown many new challenges at district administration, causing them to feel overwhelmed with all the work. There is so much that has to be done to ensure that the students are able to stay in school that Cooper is considering the hiring of a new employee to help them with the COVID related workload.  

“I’ve tried to hold off on this for a long time but we’re planning to hire a new person,” Cooper said. “We’re going to call it our COVID support specialist, who basically just helps organize and project manage all the COVID issues. They’ll essentially create a one-stop-shop resource for families and staff, and will also help support any future testing pilots. Mostly we just hope that this person will have the capacity to remove some of the responsibilities that our nurses, administrative assistance and administrators have taken on this year.”

Along with the three quarantine options, Mason has also been granted permission by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine to participate in a pilot study where students are allowed to take a COVID rapid test at school twice a week for two weeks. This allows them to stay in school as long as the tests are negative, and Cooper feels that it has been very helpful in keeping students from having to quarantine more than necessary. 

“We’re fortunate as a school district to be a part of the pilot program with the governor, so we have that fourth option of the pilot study,” Cooper said. “In that study we’ve had 400 negative tests and only three positives. What that tells me is that if we’re wearing our masks and keeping our distance, and keeping our hands and surfaces clean in our classrooms, we’re keeping our schools safe.”

The study is coming to an end on December 18, but Cooper is speaking with Governor DeWine about extending it through January and February of next year as well. Along with keeping students in school, the study also provides the district leaders with valuable information that can influence the way schools run during a pandemic. 

There’s only so much school officials can do to protect students. Along with new testing protocols and rapid testing, Cooper believes it is important for everyone to stay vigilant in the fight against COVID, both inside and outside of school.

“The biggest challenge we have is when people let their guard down out in the community or because they just get uncomfortable or tired of wearing a mask,” Cooper said. “Sometimes they don’t want to do the awkward thing of saying ‘hey, let’s all put our masks on.’ But that’s exactly where the spread is happening, so that impacts us.”

Despite all of the difficulties and complications the new quarantine options have presented, Cooper believes that there are a lot of positive impacts that can come from the change as well. He believes allowing students to stay in school can be very helpful for their mental health, and is proud of the school’s ability to make strategic decisions.

“I think the positive piece of this is that we’re using scientific data to drive decision making, which I really appreciate,” Cooper said. “The second positive in all of this is that it should reduce the amount of students that are out for quarantine. That’s a big burden on a student and their family but it’s also a big challenge for our teachers, so if we can get that shortened and only have kids out that are sick, it’s less to worry about.”

Photo provided by Jonathan Cooper