By Ava-joye Burnett

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — For months, Americans have had to grapple with staffing shortages. These shortages have intensified due to the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is four to five times more transmissible than the Delta variant.

Staffing shortages have impacted many school systems. On Monday, Baltimore city was forced to move 60 schools—more than a third of the schools in the district—to virtual learning because of a high number of COVID-19 infections.

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Even before Monday’s decision to move some schools to virtual learning, school administration officials had asked staff members in their headquarters building to volunteer to assist in schools. After that request, a staff member said nearly 200 people signed up to assist in schools in whatever capacity needed.

Stacey Davis works as a library coordinator at the headquarters building. She is one of the scores of people who signed up to help inside schools. Her duties at Holabird Academy include everything from cafeteria duties to helping with testing.

“I’ve done some testing,” Davis said. “I never thought I’d say put that further up your nose instead of pick it out of your nose, which is what I’m used to saying as a teacher.”

Stephanie Novak Papas is the principal at Holabird Academy. She said five teachers were out on Thursday, but the teamwork from her staff and support from the headquarters staff have helped to keep the process smooth.

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“I think we would still get it done, it would just be a little bit less efficient,” Novak Papas said. “So, it’s been really helpful to have some systems in place, so we can move more efficiently.”

Across town at Mount Royal Elementary/Middle, it’s a similar story. Principal Steve Skeen said five of his teachers were out on Thursday, but his team was also able to carry on with all necessary duties.

“I’ve taught elementary gym, I’ve done middle school science, middle school math, third grades, music, all of it,” Skeen said.

After dozens of schools moved to the virtual option on Monday, both parents and the teacher’s union expressed concern about how the school district is handling the surge.

For administrators and other school officials who volunteered to go back into schools to help mitigate staffing problems, they say the ultimate goal is to keep the buildings open.

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“Every school has been different,” Tina Hike Hubbard, chief of communications and community engagement officer, said. “As a former classroom teacher, this is the body of our work.”

Ava-joye Burnett