Cincinnati Public Schools Go Remote Due to Significant Employee COVID-19 Shortage

The decision comes after nearly 800 CPS employees called off work last week due to COVID-19.

click to enlarge Cincinnati Schools are returning to remote learning after a COVID-19 surge took many of the district's employees out of circulation. - August de Richelieu, Pexels
August de Richelieu, Pexels
Cincinnati Schools are returning to remote learning after a COVID-19 surge took many of the district's employees out of circulation.

It looks like Cincinnati Public Schools are going fully remote after all.

At its Jan. 10 meeting, the CPS Board of Education voted to return to districtwide remote learning beginning Wednesday, Jan. 12. The district has experienced significant absences from educators, administrators, and employees of all types due to COVID-19. Nearly 800 employees reportedly were absent as of Jan. 6.

All CPS schools will shift to remote learning five days a week, with in-person classes set to resume Monday, Jan. 24, but only if there are enough staff available. Employees are to work remotely if they are able. All schools will be off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 17.

The board made the decision based on staffing, not safety, they said.

During its Jan. 3 meeting, the CPS Board of Education originally had tabled decisions about closing schools or returning to remote learning, despite nearly 400 CPS employees calling off work that day due to COVID-19 on the first day back from winter break. Substitute teachers, administrators and dozens of central office workers filled vacancies, but educators and administrators said this wasn't sustainable with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus quickly spreading throughout Ohio and Kentucky.

During that Jan. 3 meeting, CPS interim superintendent Tianay Amat proposed moving to remote learning until at least Jan. 18, depending on COVID-19 community spread and staff levels. Amat said that the staffing shortages included educators, medical personnel and food service personnel.

Amat's proposal recommended that all district schools move to remote learning as they did in 2020, but some board members advocated for each school deciding to staff up or close. Later that week, some CPS schools moved to distance learning anyway because of the severe staff shortages. By the end of last week, at least eight schools were using remote education, with more reportedly scheduled to adopt it had the snowy weather not canceled classes.

Cincinnati's coronavirus cases increased in December, which was largely attributed to the virus spreading during and after indoor Thanksgiving gatherings. According to city data, cases spiked with the Delta variant from July until October before going down for a few weeks and rising again in December as the Omicron variant rapidly spread.

Cases continue to increase in January after Christmas and New Year's gatherings, with Hamilton County's active COVID-19 cases nearly doubling from 11,700 to 20,141 in a week's time, according to Hamilton County Public Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman on Jan. 5.

"We are certainly at a time when we are seeing more cases than ever," Kesterman said.

Also on Jan. 5, Dr. Richard Lofgren, UC Health's president and CEO, said that Greater Cincinnati hospitals are strained by a virus that continues to change.

"This pandemic is not over," Lofgren said, echoing what he had told the commissioners in December. "In fact, it's heating up more and more intense than it ever has been in the entire almost two years that we've been wrestling with this. And I'm the first to tell you that all of us, we're tired of it."

Lofgren said that the contagiousness of the Omicron variant, which has largely taken over as the dominant variant within the United States, is "just stunning." He said that Omicron is not causing "quite the intensity of the disease" as the recent Delta variant had, but it spreads much more quickly within communities.

"It truly doubles the number of cases every two to three days," Lofgren said. "It's a math problem. And though a smaller number of people require hospitalization, a small number on a large number is a very large number of individuals. We are in the process of overwhelming our healthcare systems."

Lofgren said that as in the education sector, there is a severe shortage of healthcare workers that when combined with the contagiousness of the virus is straining local hospitals and reducing the care and procedures available to non-COVID patients.

"The staff and the frontline nurses and care providers have just done heroic work throughout this pandemic. They can't maintain the idea of doing double shifts and overtime in the way that they have," he said.

Officials have stressed the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, masking and physically distancing to stay safer, as these methods were effective in helping to "flatten the curve" in 2020. Hamilton County provides free COVID-19 vaccinations and at-home testing kits. Though kits recently ran out, officials said more are on the way. Learn more and find locations at testandprotectcincy.com.


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