Schools in Omaha challenged by ‘tripledemic’

Metro schools hoping to avoid shutting their doors
Schools struggle amid virus concerns
Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 4:59 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Schools just can’t catch a break. After dealing with COVID and the teacher shortage for the past couple of years, now educators are faced with a “tripledemic:” COVID-19, the flu, and RSV.

Add a national teacher shortage to the mix, and keeping classrooms open takes creativity.

Nancy Liebermann, the Executive Director of Phoenix Academy in midtown Omaha, said, “It’s been hard.”

Like most schools, Phoenix Academy closed in the spring of 2020 due to the COVID pandemic and didn’t reopen until the fall.

Since then, Phoenix Academy has managed to keep kids in the classroom. However, the academy closed for two days just before Thanksgiving this year due to illnesses.

“We have a school of 115 students, and we had 25 out. And on top of that we had staff, who their own children were sick. So, we were worried about that,” Liebermann said.

According to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 7% of students in Nebraska were reported absent the week after Thanksgiving.

Schools prepare for the flu, RSV, and COVID-19

At Phoenix Academy, Liebermann says COVID isn’t the only issue this time around.

“We’ve seen RSV, we’ve seen the stomach flu,” she said.

Liebermann says keeping classrooms staffed is another hurdle.

“Fortunately, we do have enough staffing that we’ve been able to cover but it is a challenge,” said Liebermann. “If we’ve had a class where we’ve had four or five students out in two classes, we may be able to combine a little bit.”

Brownell-Talbot School in midtown Omaha is facing similar issues. Crystal Vaught, assistant head of the school, said, “We are seeing an increase in illnesses, but it’s not been one specific illness. It’s been a variety of illnesses.”

Brownell-Talbot has not closed this year, and Vaught says she does not foresee that happening. However, she says the school is taking precautions.

“We’ve taken extra measures in terms of cleaning, in terms of really encouraging parents who have a sick child to keep that child at home,” she said.

Three viruses concern local doctors

Vaught says Brownell-Talbot follows recommendations by the Douglas County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Liebermann says a mask mandate was reinstated at Phoenix Academy after the holiday break last year and may come back again if needed.

“We do everything we can to stay with in-person teaching,” she said.