Students connect again at clinic
The kids are starting to cope better with the death of two classmates, one West Branch student said.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
BELOIT -- A vaccination clinic Friday at West Branch High School will help heal a grieving community and give students and staff protection against meningococcal diseases, an Ohio Department of Health spokesman said.
Public information officer Jay Kerry said Friday's clinic will help bring closure to a meningococcal outbreak that killed two West Branch students over the Memorial Day weekend.
Barbara Hans, who teaches German, agreed.
"A part of the grieving process is the students' getting together," she said. "They did that by going in groups to one another's homes, but many of the students haven't seen one another since that last day."
Students were last in school together May 25. Classes were canceled the last week of school. Wednesday was the last scheduled day for students.
Victims: Jonathan Stauffer, 15, died May 26 and Kelly Coblentz, 15, died May 28. Hans said Kelly and Jonathan were well-liked, athletic students with positive attitudes.
On Wednesday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that a third student, Christin Van Camp, 18, a senior at Marlington High School near Alliance, is recovering from the same type of bacteria that infected Jonathan and Kelly, though it is not certain they are from the same source. She was listed in satisfactory condition Friday at Akron Children's Hospital Medical Center and is expected to make a complete recovery.
The mood: School counselors were available at West Branch the past two weeks and at Friday's clinic, Hans said.
"It's been better lately, but everyone has just been crying and crying," said Courtney McBride, a West Branch junior who is friends with Van Camp.
"It's still bad because it's still in the news every day."
The scene: Donna Alesi was one of about 150 volunteers, including registered nurses, school staff and the public, to assist with the clinic.
As the crowd slowed toward midday, the nurses at 17 vaccination stations were standing and waving for people seeking the vaccine to come to them.
"People become nurses to help people," Alesi said.
Kerry said ODH had about 1,500 doses of the vaccine available and administered 500 in the first 90 minutes. About 200 people were in line outside the school before 10 a.m.
"We've been planning this since Tuesday and we expected people would be orderly and not have to wait in line long and that is what happened," he said.
By noon, there were more media and volunteers present than those seeking to be vaccinated. By about 3 p.m., school officials reported about 900 students and staff had been vaccinated.
A total of 4,200 people had been inoculated at all six sites as of 6 p.m., according to the Northeast Ohio Meningitis Response Team.
Mom: Nancy Diehl, who brought 16-year-old twins Amber and Autumn to be vaccinated, also has a child in the junior high and one in the elementary school at West Branch.
"The girls rode the bus with Jon, and we were cautious and watched them," she said. She understands the guidelines that limited the free vaccine to high school students and staff.
"The CDC did all the research to determine who was at risk," she said. "This is what they do for a living. I trust their recommendation."
Hans was vaccinated and said she was very well informed by public health officials.
The vaccine was administered to students and staff of West Branch, Marlington, Sebring, Salem, Alliance and St. Thomas Aquinas high schools.
Panic: Some students who have summer jobs were told by their employers not to come to work because of the meningococcal threat.
"Some people panicked and were misinformed," Hans said. "They just didn't understand."
"People want to know where the infection came from," she said. "They don't know and probably never will. It could have just been a freak coincidence."
Sebring students: Kim Leeson brought her children, Jessica Yaggi, a Sebring junior, and Joe Benedetti, an eighth-grader, to be vaccinated.
Jessica had spinal meningitis as an infant and, as a result, becomes severely ill with any infection.
She said most Sebring graduation parties Memorial Day weekend were canceled as word of the deaths spread.
"I didn't believe it," she said. "I thought it was just a rumor. I freaked out."
Jessica and Joe both said the most frightening part of the experience was going to Alliance Community Hospital as Leeson was having surgery and finding hundreds lined up for oral antibiotics.
"It was scary being around all the people and wondering if you were going to get it," Joe said.