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“I Caught Covid Because My School is a Petri Dish!”

Updated: Jan 12


(A pseudonym is being used for professional reasons)



The Insider:

Hi Carly!


Carly Mitchell:

Hello!


The Insider:

Last week, you wrote about being afraid of catching Covid. What happened?


Carly Mitchell:

On Thursday afternoon I started feeling pretty sick. I was on my lunch period and I knew something was off. I had body aches and was suddenly exhausted. I tried not to think about it, because I was just looking forward to getting home for the holidays. My parents are in Connecticut.


I left school, took a quick nap and was feeling a bit better. Then while on the Metro-North train home I received an email from my school at 6 pm that one of my classes had been exposed.


The Insider:

Oh, no!! Did you get tested at that point?


Carly Mitchell:

Yes. The next day I got tested. Pharmacies in the area were totally wiped out, but fortunately my mom’s friend had an extra rapid test kit that I was able to use. As soon as the little pink and blue lines appeared (pink indicates a positive result), I texted colleagues whom I had been in contact with and sent an email to my principal and assistant principal. Everyone was very gracious and happy I let them know. I felt terrible, though!


The Insider:

What a bummer! Had you been vaccinated?


Carly Mitchell:

Yes, and I received my Moderna booster last week. My principal reported my case to “The Situation Room” at the Department of Education and I am now awaiting an email from them about next steps.


I’m frustrated! The school was a Petri dish all week. By Thursday, many students were absent. A lot of parents were scared to send their children to school–understandably. The teacher across the hall from me also tested positive. I think this whole situation was so poorly handled.



The Insider:

Carly, how’s your health generally? Any underlying conditions?


Carly Mitchell:

No, fortunately I am healthy.


The Insider:

And are you in your 20s, right?


Carly Mitchell:

Yes, I am 28 years old. People my age whom I have spoken wth are generally not too worried about our own reactions to the virus— especially if we are vaxxed— but we worry about others. That’s why I felt the need to let my colleagues know as soon as I found out.


The Insider:

I assume then that some of your colleagues are older?


Carly Mitchell:

Yes. Some of them are also immunocompromised or have people at home who are. For example, one of my colleagues lives with her grandmother. I let her know right away. Even though we are masked at work, it still worries me.


The Insider:

What is the mask situation at school? Do you teach wearing one?


Carly Mitchell:

Yes, of course. Everyone wears a mask. The only time I take it off is when I am alone in my classroom and eating. I have to constantly remind students to pull their masks up, I feel bad for them, but it is what it is.


The Insider:

And are the other teachers vaxxed? Is there a work requirement?


Carly Mitchell:

Yes, there is a requirement that all DOE employees are vaxxed. To my understanding though, this was not a requirement in preschools and daycare centers. I believe that could be changing.


The Insider:

How old are your students? Are they vaccinated?


Carly Mitchell:

My students are in the seventh grade. Some are and some are not. Students are not required to be vaccinated—yet.


The Insider:

Are they contacting your students to say that you’re sick? Could any of them have been exposed?


Carly Mitchell:

Yes, the school has to email all of the parents of students I taught and let them know that their child was exposed. I’m sure some of them could have been. I hate to think about it!


The Insider:

But maybe you caught it from one of them.


Carly Mitchell:

That is certainly possible.



The Insider:

You said that your school was “a Petri dish,” In what way?


Carly Mitchell:

All week we were receiving emails about possible exposures, which is the proper protocol.


The Insider:

So why didn’t they close the school?


Carly Mitchell:

I wish I had the answer. I’m not sure who it is up to at that point. I’m guessing the superintendent. I had heard of schools closing and teachers whom I work with not sending their own kids to school for the same reason--a spike in cases. But we stayed open. I think a lot of it has to do with childcare.


The Insider:

That parents aren’t at home?


Carly Mitchell:

Correct.


The Insider:

Mayor de Blasio has been very adamant about not closing the schools and going remote. Is he making a mistake?


Carly Mitchell:

Yes, he sure is. I hate remote teaching and I hate the idea of remote learning for my students, but this is nuts! Many schools I know are closed until mid-January.


The Insider:

You’re a member of the United Federation of Teachers Union, right? What is their position about this?


Carly Mitchell:

Correct. We received an email last week from Michael Mulgrew, the Union president and he was furious. He thinks schools are totally ill-equipped to handle this outbreak. He believes that if we do not have an acceptable safety program by January, we shouldn’t open. He is fuming at De Blasio and the current administration.


The Insider:

Was your school remote at the beginning of the pandemic? For how long?


Carly Mitchell:

I was not at the school during that time, I believe they were hybrid.


The Insider:

With hindsight, what do you think your school should have done when Omicron started surging in New York City?


Carly Mitchell:

I think the schools should have closed a few days early. Thursday was the last day before the break. I do not think we should have been there last week.


The Insider:

It’s hard to argue with that!


Carly Mitchell:

Yes, I’d say so!



The Insider:

Do you assume that your school is going to go remote now, or will they try after the break to keep it open?


Carly Mitchell:

I think everything is up in the air. I hope we’ll go remote, but I’m not sure that will happen. It’s totally 50/50, a crap shoot!


The Insider:

In your article last week in The Insider, you were worried about losing some of the kids if the school goes remote.


Carly Mitchell:

Yes, that is definitely my biggest fear. It’s a pretty confusing time. I hate the thought of people getting sick because we are all in the building, but I also know how damaging remote learning can be. If anything, I think perhaps going remote for two weeks or so might be able to help stop the spread, then we can return. I do not think we should repeat spring 2020.


The Insider:

Meaning?


Carly Mitchell:

Meaning we stop for a moment, take stock, and then return when things have cooled down a bit, but maybe that is too idealistic.


The Insider:

What happened in spring 2020?


Carly Mitchell:

In spring 2020, my old school went fully remote. It was a disaster. We were totally unprepared. As I said, I am not sure what my current school did- I think hybrid. But that wasn’t great either. There are major learning gaps this year. Many kids are reading far below grade level, and there have been some socialization issues. Many students are not used to being around other people.


The Insider:

What a rough situation! Meanwhile, you’ve got to get better! How are you feeling today?


Carly Mitchell:

I’m feeling a lot better than I did on Thursday and Friday. Mostly congested now and pretty tired. Feels like a chest cold. I get winded easily which stinks because I like to exercise. But I feel fortunate to have gotten Covid when I did--all vaxxed!


The Insider:

What would you say to someone who says vaccines don’t work?


Carly Mitchell:

I would say I’d be a hell of a lot more scared if I had contracted Covid last year when I had no immunity! I’m thankful to be fully vaxxed. That is for sure.


The Insider:

You are a real trooper for doing this interview!! We are really grateful. All best wishes and get well soon!


Carly Mitchell:

Thanks!

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