A Maryville man who died of COVID-19 last week worked at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge and was married to a Maryville elementary school principal.
Although Mark Easterly was employed by Bechtel for nearly 30 years, he began working at Y-12 as a project controls manager only in March and is the first COVID-19 death across the nuclear security enterprise, a Y-12 spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Times.
“Mark hadn’t been at Y-12 long, but he was excited about his work here and accepted a leadership role in one of the largest projects at the site,” his supervisor, Chad Miller, said in a statement. “Even while he was in the hospital, he was texting me about work.”
Easterly’s death is not among the five COVID-19 fatalities recorded at Blount Memorial Hospital because he had been hospitalized at Parkwest Medical Center in Knoxville for weeks, according to information provided to The Daily Times.
Maryville City Schools Director Mike Winstead had confirmed less than two days before Easterly’s death that the spouse of an employee had the disease but did not reveal the identity, saying only the employee had self-quarantined for 14 days. On Friday, July 17, he also declined to discuss details, citing privacy concerns, but said the district had worked with the county Health Department.
Easterly’s wife, Brandee, has been principal of John Sevier Elementary since last year.
Quarantine was optional
Since March 15, while school buildings were shut down to students because of the pandemic, administrators, Central Office employees, custodians, and maintenance and cafeteria workers have been designated as critical employees, allowing them to continue working if they are asymptomatic, Winstead said. “She didn’t, but she could have.”
Employees do need to notify the schools if they have been in close contact with a case of COVID-19, the director said.
The Maryville City Schools reopening plan designates all staff members as critical workers and allows them to continue working after potential exposure to COVID-19, as long as they are asymptomatic and follow precautions that include wearing a face covering at all times for 14 days after the last exposure and “maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.”
Relying on parents
Under the same Health Services section of the plan, students who have been in close contact with a confirmed case — within 6 feet for 10 or more minutes — are to quarantine at home for 14 days. For the school to know that a student must quarantine, Winstead said, “We’ll have to rely on parents quite a bit.”
That’s what happened when a student in Maryville’s Adventure Club tested positive for the virus, with the parent notifying the school long before the Health Department, he said, referring to a backlog. “Eventually we would find out through the Health Department, but it may be much later than we would need to know,” Winstead said. “So we are asking our parents to let us know so we can follow our protocol and follow our guidelines.”
Precautions when Maryville schools reopen July 30 will include daily temperature checks of students and adults for at least the first four weeks.
When there is a confirmed COVID-19 case, the student or employee will not be allowed to return to school for at least 10 days and must be symptom free for 72 hours before returning.
Students who have been in close contact with a confirmed case will need to quarantined at home for 14 days. “For younger students, this may apply to everyone in the classroom,” the MCS plan states, explaining that older students in a classroom may not all be close contacts.
Nothing at this time requires MCS students or staff members to notify the schools if they have traveled to a COVID-19 hot spot.
MCS held a Zoom meeting with employees last week to answer questions about what will happen if they must remain home for COVID-related reasons and how various types of leave may apply.
Winstead said the district wants to offer telework options, calling that a “win-win” for the employee and the district.
“If I’ve got a teaching assistant out 10 days, I’d rather they still be providing assistance to the classroom and instruction,” he said. “There’s so much they can do online, even if their kids are still in school. There’s a lot they can do from home, and that would allow us to keep them involved and allows them to not have to take a sick day.”
Winstead said the district still is considering what it may do throughout the year depending on developments.
“Many factors are evaluated when considering school closure including student and teacher attendance rates, availability of substitute teachers, impact on the community, etc.,” the MCS COVID-19 Management Plan states, and the district will work with local health and emergency management departments.
“It may be necessary to close individual schools for short periods of time during the school year due to illness and infections of COVID-19,” it states. “If a school closure occurs the school will transition to virtual learning classrooms for the number of closed days. This scenario may occur multiple times during the year.”