QHS teacher battles COVID and worries about her students

By Debra Moore

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Quincy High School teacher Suzanne Stirling isn’t exactly sure where she contracted Covid, but suspects that it was at school.  As with most people who come down with the virus, she has been replaying her interactions. Was it taking off her mask at lunch to eat, not allowing her room to air out completely, or missing the 20th hand washing or hand sanitizing for the day?

Suzanne is vaccinated and fully boosted with Moderna, but she is reporting the classic symptoms associated with Covid: extreme fatigue, headache, body aches, coughing, congestion, loss of taste and smell.

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Those latter two symptoms are associated with the original strain of COVID-19 or delta, not so much with omicron. Similarly, the Lake Almanor man who reached out to Plumas News on Thursday reported a loss of smell. Neither described their symptoms as mild, to the point that they both contemplated going to the hospital.

Plumas News reached out to Public Health Agency Director Dana Loomis, to see if the agency has been seeing an increase in reporting of these types of symptoms and what it means to local residents.

“As of this week, 97 percent of new Covid cases in California were infected with omicron and 2 percent were delta,” Loomis said. “From the rapid increase in local cases in the last two weeks, I would conclude that omicron is here, too, but Plumas County typically lags behind the state average by a week or two, so it’s likely we still have delta, at the same time.”

Loomis said that Public Health has collected local samples for sequencing, but the results won’t be available for a week or two. While it might be nice to know which strains are circulating, it doesn’t change how one deals with the virus.

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“Yes, I am very sick, far more than I anticipated as a somewhat healthy vaccinated 55-year-old,” Suzanne said. “I am assuming that the sheer stress of teaching in the time of Covid has something to do with my immune response.” She has also been serving as union president, which brings more pressure as she helps other teachers navigate the virus and its impacts. She also worries about her daughter, who is pregnant, and 90-year-old mother. She said she saw her mother when she was contagious but didn’t know it and now is terrified that she exposed her to the virus.

On day five of her illness, Suzanne left home for the first time and took a short walk. “Now I’m home exhausted,” she said. “No taste; no smell. Aching joints, cough, pounding headache, the works.” Suzanne has been relying on hot soup and hot tea with lemon and honey, as well as Vitamin D and Zinc to help her feel better. Her puppy helps also.

Suzanne did share some concerns about the contact tracing that is occurring. “There is a disconnect between Plumas County Public Health and what they seem to think the schools can accomplish in terms of Covid contact tracing,” she said. “Case in point: When they contacted me today (Friday), I thanked them and remarked that I reported my positive case on Tuesday. They replied that the schools are doing the contact tracing, but our school nurses are buried.”

And it’s not just the nurses. Suzanne said the outcome of this latest outbreak has been overwhelming, also impacting teaching staff, custodial, classified, admin and, “most importantly, student learning.”  She continued, “Multiple teachers have been out with Covid, and we have very few subs stepping up, (here in Quincy, blessings to Margaret Garcia, Joan Frank and Sandy Eck) — even retired teachers who can make their full daily retirement rate are not coming forward due to Covid concerns.”

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There have been 129 cases of Covid at Quincy High School, by far the most in Plumas Unified School District. C. Roy Carmichael in Portola is next with 56 and Portola High School at 54.

Suzanne also acknowledged new principal Jennifer Scheel “for stepping in to take the helm in the midst of this with utter calm, and dedicated leadership, and to Assistant Superintendent Kristy Warren for subbing in my class today.”

But the heart of her concern remains her students who she described as experiencing a most difficult chapter in their young lives. “Some are suffering far beyond pandemic learning loss, and experiencing loss of emotion, and socialization cues from peers and teachers alike. Beyond that are the Dixie Fire refugees, another blow to the heart. Their resilience is amazing.”

Suzanne is anxious to recover so that she can return to the classroom and her students.