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Q&A with Pace COVID-19 Contact Tracing Team

Head athletic trainer Pete Dewar administers a coronavirus test for sophomore basketball player Maddie Swartz. Photo: Stella Nelson

Knightly News: What was it like preparing for the school year with COVID-19? What did the summer consist of?

Nurse Megan Turner: The summer consisted of reading lots and lots of CDC guidelines, new protocols and medical journals. It’s been really helpful, too, that the Pace community as a whole has a ton of doctors, and they are versed at Grady, Emory and Piedmont, among other hospitals. And most of them are all working in COVID-19 related situations so we definitely bounce things off of them when we need advice.

I have learned a ton from their expertise, so that’s been really great. We also did webinars, like with Children’s Healthcare. Every few weeks, information and guidelines change, so we are constantly trying to stay up to date. We also want the most information on what is happening in the Atlanta area, not as much so like in California, because it pertains to us. 

KN: How has protocol changed for this school year? What do you do if there is a positive case?

MT: We have three contact tracers this year, including myself. Two people on our team, Lower School Nurse Anna Gretchen and Head Athletic Trainer Pete Dewar, are new to Pace. We’ve all taken a class offered by Johns Hopkins. It’s the same that the Department of Public Health takes.

When we do have a positive case, we go through every single class, look to see if you’ve been to the college counselor, or anything else. It’s very detailed. We have also learned that every case is very individual, so it’s hard to tell in advance sometimes unless you are 100% social distancing. However, so far, we feel confident with our protocols, which include wiping desks and using hand sanitizer, that we are keeping Pace safe.

KN: How did you come about these changes?

MT: We had to sort out our protocols over the summer, which has been hard work but so far it has paid off. We met with other private school nurses, as Fred [Assaf] met with other Atlanta headmasters. With that, together we had to sort out everything because we all had no idea what we were doing. We were all sort of unified in trying, though. If somebody had a good idea, they would share it, and we would use their ideas, just as people came to use ours. 

KN: What were expectations like going into this year?

MT: So far, the protocols have really exceeded expectations. We looked at Camp High Harbor as kind of what could potentially go wrong with school. But, since the start of school for us, things have been going great. We have always felt like we can keep the Pace community safe, which is our number one priority right now.

KN: What do you think has been the hardest so far?

MT: The hardest is that every day there’s something you can’t control. So we have a typical school day, with normal injuries or nurse visits, but then we are seeing COVID-19 on top of it. We’re just helping people navigate through different scenarios. Like if somebody doesn’t feel good, we want to help them get a test, and with that, explain how to deal with test results. 

KN: What has testing for sports been like? 

MT: We have only had to pause two teams this fall for a week due to COVID exposure. It sort of has been a way to tell us that the protocols at school are working because the results have been good. 

KN: Are there any common issues happening with masks at school? 

MT: We have extra masks here in case someone needs a new one. They say that for maturing kids, the mask can give you acne. We have also seen that because you’re breathing your own air constantly, it can dry out your nose, so there has been an an uptick in nosebleeds. Also, dehydration occurs if you aren’t making it a priority to go outside and drink water. Sometimes people forget.

KN: What are your biggest areas of concern or times when people should stay especially safe and be hyper aware of COVID-19?

MT: At school, lunch is risky and a time when people need to stay safe because it’s the only time all day when everyone’s masks are off. Also with senior privileges and being able to leave campus, students need to be wise. Anytime we have extra days off, like Thanksgiving or winter break, everyone spends more time with people outside of their nuclear bubble.

You are putting yourself in situations with more germs, so I think everyone needs to be aware. However, I feel confident that you can spend time with your family, and that there’s a safe way to do so. I definitely would say spending time outside is better than inside. 

Pete Dewar: Be aware of who’s in your bubble. Just try to limit how many people are in your bubble, and make sure you know who the people you are with are. Pay attention to your surroundings.

KN: What do you think the future holds for us? What’s next?

MT: To be all doom and gloom, this isn’t going away anytime soon. 

PD: Yeah, this isn’t like an “I get through the school year, and things will be back to normal next year,” type thing. I think it is going to take a couple years to get back to things being more normal. I look back at 9/11 and how it changed air travel forever. There’s going to be things that linger from this for a long time.

I think even when we start to get some level of immunity, or a vaccine, it’s going to take a long time to get the vaccine out to everyone. You might at that point not have to wear a mask, like in school, but you’re probably still going to have to wear a mask at a sporting event or a concert or on an airplane. 

MT: So make good choices, because we’ve got the whole year like this, in these unusual times. But compared to other schools, who knew you would be so excited just to have a school day?!


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