High schools using technology to combat virus spread

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, March 3, 2021

A student walks through a DuThermX Body Temperature Measurement System on Feb. 5, 2021, at Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park. The contact-free scanner checks students’ temperatures as they enter the school. This is an example of how local Catholic high schools are employing technology to fight the spread of COVID-19. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

From temperature scanners and touchless faucets to cleaning protocols and contact tracing, Catholic high schools are using every strategy they can to curtail the transmission of COVID-19 on their campuses.

“The question isn’t so much what we’re doing as what aren’t we doing,” said Dennis Stonequist, executive vice president of Loyola Academy in Wilmette. “Temperature taking, symptom checking, maintaining a distance of 6 feet apart in classes, lunchrooms, breakrooms, anywhere and everywhere. Masks, hand sanitizer, wiping down of desks. We’re following all the guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the [Centers for Disease Control], everyone else. And I have to tell you, I have never been so proud to be part of this community.”

The measures at Loyola Academy are not unusual among local Catholic high schools.

Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park last fall received a donation of a walk-through temperature scanner, which allows students to enter the building without stopping for a temperature check.

“That’s been really nice in the cold weather,” said Therese Hawkins, Nazareth’s principal.

Hawkins and Stonequist both credited their school nurses with keeping a close eye on the situation. Loyola has increased their nurse team to four people, and Hawkins said the Nazareth school nurse, Kathy Gross, “has just been a superhero.”

Gross has kept track of students who are quarantining after COVID-19 exposure, students home after becoming ill or testing positive for COVID-19 and handling contact tracing duties.

So far, the rate of infection has been low, usually 1 percent or less, and there have been no cases that appear to have been transmitted at school.

“Our hybrid program has exceeded all of my expectations,” she said.

Protocols that students must adhere to at Nazareth include following a one-way traffic pattern in the corridors and sanitizing their hands, wiping down their desks, then sanitizing their hands again when entering any classroom.

Like Loyola, Nazareth has divided its students alphabetically, with those whose last names start with the letters A through L attending in person one day and those whose last names start with the letters M through Z the next.

That allows class sizes to be limited and social distances to be maintained. While a few classes at Loyola have more than 15 students, they have been moved to larger rooms, such as the auditorium, Stonequist said.

At Cristo Rey St. Martin de Porres College Prep in Waukegan, fewer than half of students are on campus at any time. Ninety-five percent of the students are Latino and about 4% are Black, both communities that have been hit hard by COVID-19, and 70% of school families have had a parent lose a job during the pandemic, said Preston Kendall, the school’s president.

The majority of the students have chosen to attend school on a fully remote basis, whether because of the virus or because they are needed at home to supervise siblings or, possibly, work a part-time job during the school day.

Still, he said, even remote students are maintaining a 98 percent attendance rate this year.

Those who are coming to school in person are on campus once a week, although Kendall said the school hopes to increase that to twice a week this spring, especially for freshmen.

To that end, St. Martin de Porres has added touchless fixtures in the bathrooms and spaced desks so that students are 6 feet from one another and 12 feet from the teacher. They have also adjusted their HVAC system to bring in as much fresh air as possible.

Kendall said that St. Martin de Porres has also been able to acquire enough rapid COVID-19 tests to begin testing faculty, staff and students on a regular basis, a move he hopes will give families and students enough confidence to return to in-person classes.

“We’ve been hybrid since summer school, and we have not had a single COVID-positive case traced to being on campus,” he said. “We’ve had kids get it, but they’ve gotten it from home, or they’ve gotten it somewhere else.”

In the meantime, Kendall said, the school welcomed the opportunity to use some of its space to serve as a one-day community vaccination clinic in partnership with Jewel-Osco. Part of the deal was that all of the teachers and staff — who are in the category allowed to be vaccinated in early February — could get their COVID-19 vaccines.

Hawkins at Nazareth also took advantage of an existing relationship with a local Jewel-Osco to have all of its teachers vaccinated, she said.


  • catholic schools
  • covid-19

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