Mon Schools have teams ready to fight COVID-19
As Jay Davis was reaching up to pat his follicle-free pate, a grin was breaking out from underneath his facemask.
“I’ve grown hair with this thing a couple of times,” he said, nodding in the direction of a very specific piece of equipment on the table next to him.
“You can get a shock if you don’t watch.”
Now, he gets a charge of using the Sani-Spray brand electrostatic sprayer he was gesturing to — because he knows when he wields it, he’s protecting a very specific segment of Monongalia County’s population.
The population of students, teachers, administrators and staffers going to school in the current shadow of COVID-19.
Davis is a longtime employee of the school district. He’s a head custodian. He’s good at it.
He’s also good at being a product of his pandemic times, these days.
The driver is one of 14 people, also fellow district employees, who make up the coronavirus disinfecting crew for Mon Schools.
They’re the ones who tackle the building if someone comes down with COVID-19 and has logged time in a classroom or hallway.
Sheri Petitte, who is principal of Ridgedale Elementary School, calls the crew and its members “ninjas” — and she doesn’t mean it as a racial pejorative.
It’s just that they’re that effective, she said.
She got to meet the crew a couple of weeks ago, after a student tested positive at her school, resulting in six additional students, plus two staffers, going into quarantine as a precaution.
Ridgedale got the full spa treatment, pandemic-style.
The principal was impressed by their professionalism, and — well — their stealthy nature, too.
“They came out after-hours,” she said, “and they called from the parking lot.”
That was so they wouldn’t alarm a stray student or teacher with their contagion-styled get up, she said.
Petitte had provided a map of the building and the crew went to work.
Maybe the imagery goes beyond ninjas, she said.
Maybe it’s also “Ghostbusters” — minus the comedy.
Who ya gonna call?
Like the title song to the above movie asks, who are you going to call, if you’re a school administrator and you encounter the specter of COVID-19 in your hallway?
Well, there’s the aforementioned Davis, and his crew members: Jennifer Flesher, James Trivett, Jason McBee and Sean Thompson.
There’s Ralph Thorn, who leads his team of Danette Jones, Tylor Kennedy, Nicki Kennedy and Kyle Brown.
Michelle Marshall is also on that call list, along with her team of Michelle Moss, Gerald Marshall, Michael Zybell and Scotty McElroy.
Some are bus drivers. Others are custodians, cooks and aides to special needs students.
Several have children of their own in Mon’s schools. Grandchildren, too.
All are paid for their work on the crew. All underwent extensive training before going into a building where COVID-19 acted up in class.
Moss may have been the only ringer at the start. She was a dental hygienist for 30 years.
“I got a little burned-out,” she said.
So, she retired, and got burned-out from that, too.
Moss missed people’s voices and their smiles (of course) so when she spied the ad for the bus driver job for the district, she put in for it quick.
It wasn’t long before she was hugging Mon’s roadways from behind the wheel of a Bluebird bus painted yellow.
When the jobs for the COVID crew were posted, she didn’t waste a second there, either.
“Dental hygienists are all about sterilizing things anyway,” she said with a little laugh. “I wanted to help the kids.”
Socially distanced droplets, too
The 15 members of the Mon Schools COVID crew are overseen by Judy Sickles, the district’s director of custodial services.
She started out as a school custodian herself 30 years ago.
That’s when something like today’s pandemic may have popped up in a science fiction novel assigned in English class.
“If we have to deal with something like this,” she said, referring to the present-day coronavirus, “we’re at least lucky we’re in a county where we get all this support.”
That’s evident in the inventory of the COVID crew.
Face shields and all the PPE — the personal protective equipment — the crew needs to stay safe, so it can help keep your kid safe.
There are commercial-strength disinfecting wipes, by the industrial canister.
There are the 3M factory-grade respirators, plus an ultraviolet light bar similar to ones used in hospitals.
There are the aforementioned electrostatic sprayers that have tried to repopulate Jay Davis’ scalp.
Said sprayers employ ionization (electricity, in basic terms) to positively charge disinfectant droplets as a mist is applied to a specific area.
As workspace surfaces, such as desks in a classroom, for example, carry a negative charge, the disinfectant droplets couldn’t be more attracted.
That’s while they’re also repelling one another, making for an even distribution across a surface, just like the socially distanced spectators at football games in this pandemic season.
A continuance of COVID
The crew wrapped up its last training session on a morning in September, and got its first case that same afternoon.
“Guess where you guys are going,” Sickles said.
The crew was at Cheat Lake Elementary on the morning of Election Day following a case.
And, at Clay-Battelle, at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday after the football team was pulled off the bus for an away game the afternoon before, due to a diagnosis.
“They go when and where they’re needed,” Sickles said. “I’m proud of the work they do.”
It’s work that couldn’t be more systematic, Davis said.
“We’ll take the pens out of a cup on the teacher’s desk,” Davis said. “And wipe ‘em all down.”
No one gets bored or annoyed, Davis said.
That’s for obvious reasons. The state is in the first bands of that feared second resurgence of the coronavirus.
Three recent coronavirus incidents in a row in Mon’s school district, including Petitte’s Ridgedale, came out with four positive cases.
Which, relatively speaking, isn’t bad.
However, that quartet of diagnoses also netted 95 people into quarantine, over worries of additional exposures.
And 91 of them were students.
In the meantime, people are continuing to die from coronavirus complications, across West Virginia and elsewhere.
Hair jokes aside, Davis knows the job is deadly serious.
“You go in these buildings and you’re playing hide-and-seek, with a killer.”
Note: This story has been updated to reflect corrections: Jay Davis is a head custodian, not a bus driver and Tylor Kennedy, not Thompson, is standing at left in the main image.