CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As COVID-19 clusters are popping up from elementary schools to colleges, plenty of parents want to know what the schools are doing to protect their children and the teachers from contracting the virus.
WCNC Charlotte submitted requests for information from some of the area's largest school districts about what personal protective equipment they have procured for the approaching return to in-person instruction.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools operations officials provided purchase orders, showing they went on a PPE shopping spree over the summer, purchasing and procuring tens of thousands of masks, face shields, and other protective equipment.
Records show school officials started stockpiling masks back in May, altogether, purchasing more than 166,000 masks and face shields.
The total cost was just over $257,000.
CMS is comprised of 175 schools, 19,000 employees and 148,000 students.
School district leaders also spent more than a quarter-million dollars on an antimicrobial floor finish. The Microban floor coating is supposed to inhibit the spread of viruses and bacteria.
In addition to the money spent by CMS, it also received an influx of supplies from the state.
The state provided 2 face shields for each of the 170 school nurse positions in CMS, as well as 5500 gowns, more than 1500 thermometers, and tens of thousands of additional masks.
“We already have many of these products in stock that we feel like are adequate supplies for the year,” said Carol Stamper, Deputy Superintendent of Operations.
But one area that raised the eyebrows of health officials was the lack of preparedness for one of the most basic rules of virus protection: hand washing materials.
At a recent CMS advisory committee meeting, Stamper said her team opted to take a wait and see approach, rather than buying large quantities of soap and hand sanitizer.
“What we have to do, realistically, is experience this,” she said, adding that they did not know how much of those supplies would be used. “We don’t know right now how much soap, how much hand sanitizer, how many cleaning wipes, how many bottles of cleaning supplies are we gonna have to continue to furnish and reorder and distribute until we get our students and staff back in the schools.”
Records show CMS did spend about $6,000 back in June for hand sanitizer and bottle pumps for the athletic departments.
Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris encouraged the operations team to purchase more items anyway, saying “it is better to have too much than not enough.”
The day after our story initially aired, the assistant superintendent of communications for CMS reached out to WCNC Charlotte offering additional information.
Patrick Smith provided the following list of purchases of infection control products the district has also purchased:
- 10,468 gallons of hand soap. Ordered in March 2020.
- Ordered and distributed 22,980 bottles (16-ounces each) of hand sanitizer, more than enough to begin the year with one per school-based staff member.
- On order 16,000 1-gallon bottles of hand sanitizer with pump dispensers; each teacher will receive one of these in preparation for return to in-person instruction (which will occur after the Board of Education votes to enable that)
- Placed an estimated 1100 hand sanitizer stations in schools
Smith said the hand soap was ordered in March and the other items were purchased in "recent weeks." CMS has not yet provided purchase orders or documentation related to those orders.
As we originally reported, Stamper said last week updated the advisory team that she believed supplies were now in “good shape” for the return of students to in-person instruction, and her team will be aggressively procuring sanitizer and soap moving forward.
The CMS Board meets on Wednesday where it is expected to review plans for a phased-in return to in-person instruction.
Among the plans under consideration is an option that would bring back some of the youngest learners, as well as some of the students in need of additional services.