Latest Pandemic Reading through The lense of School Leadership

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published yesterday a comprehensive guide for reopening of school campuses. “Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation” lays out in detail a plan for schools to reopen. We opened in early October and I am pleased that all of what we implemented is in the report. The major areas are layered mitigation efforts aka “Swiss Cheese” such as mandatory masks, temperature checks, increasing air ventilation, separating students into “pods”, prioritizing in-class instruction over extracurricular activities, contact tracing and testing, etc.

One challenge for TIS is monitoring rates of community transmission as the CDC recommends. As you can see from the chart below, we had two large spikes that peaked in early August and again in late September. However, the actual numbers of cases is unknown because many people do not go in for testing among many factors. We use not only the official reports from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, but we also reach out to local doctors, other international schools and embassies to get a clearer picture of transmission, hospital occupancy rates, positive test percentages, etc.

The World Health Organization Tashkent Office report from February 11 shows a 7-day average of 31 new COVID cases per day in the city of Tashkent. With a population of roughly 3 million, that would be 1.03 cases per 100,000. The government reports officially, 79,303 total cases and 622 deaths in a country of approximately 30 million people.

The two areas our COVID Response Team is focusing on are obtaining vaccines for faculty and staff and developing rapid-antigen testing protocols. Of course, the only sure way out of the pandemic is widespread vaccine inoculation. I am concerned, especially for our foreign employees that they will fall through the cracks of the system because they are not Uzbek citizens and maybe not eligible for vaccines here, and they are not living in their passport countries and would not be prioritized for vaccination there. Rapid antigen testing can be utilized around break-outs to quickly identify cases and isolate them. This will come in handy if we experience another spike, especially with the more contagious variant.

In this week’s AAIE (Association for the Advancement of International Education) newsletter, they ask school leaders to read two Harvard Business Review articles. The first “Beyond Burned Out” by Jennifer Moss details how the pandemic caused widespread emotional fatigue. She gives instructions on how leaders can combat burnout of themselves and colleagues.

  • Unsustainable workload
  • Perceived lack of control
  • Insufficient rewards for effort
  • Lack of a supportive community
  • Lack of fairness
  • Mismatched values and skills

Moss and her colleagues did extensive surveys measuring burnout and had the following results:

  • 89% of respondents said their work life was getting worse.
  • 85% said their well-being had declined.
  • 56% said their job demands had increased.
  • 62% of the people who were struggling to manage their workloads had experienced burnout “often” or “extremely often” in the previous three months.
  • 57% of employees felt that the pandemic had a “large effect on” or “completely dominated” their work.
  • 55% of all respondents didn’t feel that they had been able to balance their home and work life — with 53% specifically citing homeschooling.
  • 25% felt unable to maintain a strong connection with family, 39% with colleagues, and 50% with friends.
  • Only 21% rated their well-being as “good,” and a mere 2% rated it as “excellent.”

Moss prescribes the following ways to combat burnout:

  • Feeling a sense of purpose.
  • Having a manageable workload. (focusing on eliminating unnecessary meetings)
  • Feeling that you can discuss mental health at work.
  • Having an empathetic manager.
  • Having a strong sense of connection to family and friends.

The second article is from 2006 and warns organizations to prepare for future pandemics. “Preparing for a Pandemic” was written during the Avian Flu crisis.

The final article I read, “Do the math: Vaccines along won’t get us out of the pandemic” by Lain McLeod is about the challenges reaching herd immunity through vaccination. It was interesting to note that the Pfizer vaccine can be administered to people ages 16 and up. That would help cover much of our high school, who are the biggest asymptomatic spreaders.

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