Minnesota school district extends its winter break to 2 weeks over COVID staffing issues

Minnesota’s St. Paul School District extended its upcoming winter break to a full two weeks because of COVID-19 staffing challenges. Superintendent Joe Gothard explained the reasoning behind the decision during a school board meeting on Monday. 

Gothard pointed out that, on one recent Friday, there were 300 absences among district staff, and school officials could find substitutes for only less than half of them. The longer break will give students off on Monday, Dec. 20, and Tuesday, Dec. 21.

“Those extra two days of break [are] just one way we can support what’s happening in the building,” Gothard said.

But a message on the district’s Facebook page said that the extra days off were for students too. “This change is being made in an effort to acknowledge the stress and challenges students, families and staff are facing due to the pandemic,” it read. “The district wants to give students, school staff and their families a longer break. We also encourage everyone to use this time to get vaccinated or get your booster shot if you are eligible.”

The district is offering limited spots at a local child care facility for parents who need accommodations for their children on those days.

Reactions in the comments were mixed. “SPPS is doing a great job. Thanks for keeping students and staff safe — and thinking about their mental health too!” one person wrote. “This is not helpful for families. I wish the administration and school board could be honest about the purpose of this decision,” another said.

Experts say it’s likely these kinds of COVID-related staffing issues will continue throughout the winter.

“COVID cases are going to accelerate, and because of isolation requirements, it is going to be disruptive and cause staffing issues for all sorts of organizations,” infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Yahoo Life.

Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, agreed. “Schools are going to have continued issues at least between now and January,” he told Yahoo Life. “I expect we’re going to have a significant community burden of disease, independent of what happens with Omicron. With Delta, we still have our hands full.”

But clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, told Yahoo Life that the extra time off will be good for students’ mental health. “More time off for students is only a positive boost to their mental health,” he said. “A day off for a student in any form, at any time is like winning the lottery for them — an extra holiday gift.”

Researchers in Texas find an effective way to decontaminate your mask at home

Researchers at Rice University and University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), Galveston, have discovered a secret for decontaminating disposable face masks: Put them in an oven heated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes.

The research, which was published in the Journal of Hazardous Materialsfound that this move killed more than 99.9 percent of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses that could be lurking on face masks.

But infectious disease experts say this trick is somewhat unnecessary now. “This was really important about a year ago when masks were in relatively short supply,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “But I really think this may be misplaced at the present time. You can go to any pharmacy now and buy a package of disposable surgical masks. I’m not so sure we need this.”

Adalja agreed. “Masks are plentiful at this point, so I’m not sure that there’s much value to doing this,” he said. “There are protocols for reusing N95 masks … I don’t think that this is going to have a strong need in the current environment.”

Russo has concerns that sticking your mask in the oven could potentially compromise its integrity. Instead, he suggested a different hack that he uses for his own disposable masks: Have several masks that you rotate throughout the week. Once you’ve used a mask, put it in a sandwich baggie, leaving it open to let out moisture. “The half-life of the virus on something like a mask is only a day or two,” he explained. “Even if your mask is contaminated, if you let it sit for a few days, there will be no viable virus on the outside after a few days.”

Michigan schools close to deep clean for COVID-19

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