Editor's note: This story is part of the 2021 "Essential to Jamestown" special edition of The Jamestown Sun. The annual Progress Edition features stories on essential workers, agencies and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
The staff of the Anne Carlsen Center had a simple concept for protecting the students during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Tim Eissinger, CEO of the Anne Carlsen Center.
"We said we were going to bubble wrap the campus," he said. "We geared up early with personal protection equipment like masks, we started screening the employees and developed access rules."
During the early months of the pandemic, a pandemic response team at the Anne Carlsen Center met as often as twice a day to monitor the situation and discuss the latest releases from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The information came at us fast and furious at that time," Eissinger said. "It did help us refine our plan."
The center instituted a number of changes including moving outpatient services off campus. Outpatient services involve patients from the community going to the Anne Carlsen Center for treatment. Moving those services off campus reduced the exposure of the residents at the center to outside people.
The center also had some staff work from home to reduce the number of people who came in contact with the center's residents.
"All those protections kept people safe," Eissinger said. "... we've had excellent success with infection rates among the individuals served and the staff."
The Anne Carlsen Center staff drew on experiences from the H1N1 outbreak of 2009.
"One of the nice things is we didn't have to start from scratch," Eissinger said. "We reviewed and adapted what we knew from 2009."
Those protections will have to continue.
"Our residents are not eligible for the vaccines at this time," Eissinger said. "We have a few individuals over 16 who could get the vaccine with the appropriate permissions but most of our students are younger."
While research is being conducted, the Pfizer vaccine is licensed for people 16 years of age and older while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only available to patients over 18. There is no vaccine licensed in the United States for administration to children.
"Because we knew we wouldn't get access to the vaccine, we've been very, very careful," Eissinger said. "The precautions will have to continue."
Those precautions may have been the hardest on the families of the residents.
"We put some pretty significant access restrictions on parents and guardians," Eissinger said. "Since about May, we have been working to keep a positive connection between the families and their residents here."
Keeping the communication channels open between the students, their teachers and the students' families has required what Eissinger calls a "ton of creativity."
"When we implemented plastic face shields, the staff did an activity where students drew makeup on the shields for the teachers to wear," he said. "It brought some sense of normality to a very unusual situation."
It was just one example of the work of the staff that helped the students cope with the situation.
"I couldn't be prouder of our staff and the creativity of all our facilities," Eissinger said, "and at the way Jamestown has pulled together."
Eissinger said the staff at the Anne Carlsen Center has pulled together for the safety of the students for more than a year now.
"I am very proud of our staff," he said. "They embraced staff and patient testing early in the pandemic. That let us know where we stood with the risk."
His thanks go beyond the staff at the school.
"We are working with the families to be as transparent with them as possible," he said. "The families have been fantastic and have understood the risk."