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VBS Pandemic Response CoordinatorsOrit Rappaport, Renee Kalmanson & Coach Sam

08/27/2020 09:48:17 PM


When the synagogue closed its doors back in March as a result of the “Safer at Home” order, Orit Rappaport, VBS Operations and Facilities Manager, quickly became the emergency protocols and campus reopening expert. She attended Los Angeles County Department of Public Health briefings each week and stayed up to date on the latest updates and health requirements for houses of worship. Thanks to her efforts, our campus and maintenance staff were well-positioned for LA County’s phased reopening plans in June, including on-site outdoor services and private b’nai mitzvah. It’s unimaginable to think that before March, the biggest concern at VBS was a leaky roof. Orit is now not only managing our physical building, but also overseeing extensive cleaning protocols (along with Orion, the VBS maintenance crew) and ensuring all staff on campus are following the highest levels of health and safety standards as we prepare for the ECC and Kindergarten to return to school on campus.

As part of our emergency preparedness program, Orit consults regularly with Joffe Emergency Services, a local company specializing in helping schools and businesses implement emergency protocols and planning. With the coronavirus shutting down all VBS activities back in the spring, Joffe Emergency Services started offering weekly webinars for schools to respond to this crisis and prepare for a return to campus. They also put together a six day training course to become a certified Pandemic Response Coordinator. Each organization or school that registered to take the course was able to enroll three staff members to participate. Along with Orit Rappaport, Renee Kalmanson, Assistant Director of our Early Childhood Center, attended the training, as well as Coach Sam Schwerdtfeger, Athletic Director and Dean of Students at VBS Day School. Before the training began, they also attended a one day prerequisite course on contact tracing hosted by Johns Hopkins University. 

Each day of training was divided into specific topics including COVID-19 signs and symptoms, how to set up a classroom, case scenarios, quarantining, creating a safe isolation room, social emotional support for children and families, emergency drills, wash stations, CDC and Department of Public Health compliance, school events and more. “The training allowed us to organize our thoughts and create our own written protocols. We were able to use county guidelines to establish protocols and best practices to fit the needs of our organization,” said Renee. 

Noting that participants in the Zoom program came from schools throughout the U.S., Orit added “we were all in this together, the burden of this experience was shared among the whole group. It was very comforting to us.” VBS was among only two Jewish Los Angeles schools participating in the training. 

As Pandemic Response Coordinators for VBS, Orit, Renee and Sam have been able to create responses for many possible scenarios. They are also fortunate to have the guidance of Nurse Marcie Spetner who provides critical support for both the ECC and the Day School. This past summer, the Day School hosted a successful on-site Camp Kef program for 41 children, led by Rabbi Avi Taff. This program allowed staff to implement and review response protocols and scenarios. Nurse Marcie was on staff during the camp to help ensure all medical protocols were followed and proper precautions taken at all times. The first week of camp, there were two children who had disclosed symptoms of COVID-19 before arriving to camp that day. Although they ended up testing negative, it was an important learning experience for all staff, campers and parents. Email communication was timely and clear, and parents were understanding and appreciative of the camp’s efforts to keep everyone as safe as possible. “Having camp on site enabled us to handle real life scenarios using our training and best judgment,” Orit noted. During camp there was also a surprise in-person inspection by the Los Angeles County Department of Health which yielded a glowing report, as VBS met and surpassed all health and safety requirements set forth by the County. Camp proved to be a very important learning tool to prepare for ECC and Kindergarten on campus this fall, and eventually the rest of the schools once restrictions are lifted by the County.

As the lead Pandemic Response Coordinator, Orit has access to county briefings and direct resources for obtaining real time information. She attends regularly scheduled ECC and K-12 school tele-briefings presented by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health led by Dr. Barbara Ferrer. The briefing includes a 30 minute update, followed by questions. Each week, Orit has been able to ask Dr. Ferrer direct questions and receive answers. The County acknowledges that what we’re facing and how we’re handling scenarios is an art, not a science, and we continue to learn and adjust as we move along. Orit also attends Houses of Worship briefings to have a better understanding of the guidelines specifically pertaining to synagogues and churches.

Coach Sam added that VBS is fortunate to have plenty of outdoor space and resources to open in a safe manner. Part of the latest County guidelines states that K-12 schools can host after school sports programs outside in smaller groups while following social distancing and face covering protocols. “We’re taking all the necessary precautions and making sure staff feel comfortable, and of course our families.” One day after the sign up for the sports program was released, some age groups were already sold out! 

As of this writing and as LA County is working to reduce community transmission, all the VBS Pandemic Response Coordinators continue to monitor the daily health briefings, and work to meet and, in some cases, exceed the required mandates set forth by the County. The coordinators also meet weekly to check in and review the latest updates and any possible changes to our protocols. We know that COVID-19 will be with us for quite some time, even as we slowly attempt to reopen and celebrate the Jewish New Year together. We are learning how to live with the virus within the protocols set forth by the County. Our Pandemic Response Coordinators continue to work tirelessly to ensure that all departments within the Valley Beth Shalom Schools and Synagogue meet that challenge and make our campus as safe as possible for our families.

Sat, October 24 2020 6 Cheshvan 5781