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JUST IN: APS Preparing for ‘Possibility of School Closures in the Future’

(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) With the first confirmed coronavirus cases in the D.C. area, preparations for a possible local outbreak are stepping up.

Arlington Public Schools said in an email to parents today that it was “preparing for the possibility of school closures in the future, if necessary,” while monitoring student health and continuing to disinfect surfaces in schools. The full email is below.

Arlington’s health department, meanwhile, has been working on a public information campaign. Officials participated in an online Q&A session this week, during which the county’s director of public health encouraged frequent hand washing and other preventative measures, while dispelling some misconceptions about how the disease is spread.

Amid concerns that testing for the disease in the United States has been inadequate, a spokesman for Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services said that anyone who contacts the health department thinking they might have coronavirus are being told to contact a doctor.

“Call your healthcare professional if you feel sick with fever, cough, or have difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19,” Larrick said. “Your healthcare professional will work with your state’s public health department and [the Centers for Disease Control] to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.”

Virginia Hospital Center says that it is prepared and will follow CDC guidelines in the event of possible local coronavirus cases.

The hospital sent the following statement to ARLnow:

Virginia Hospital Center (VHC) is following the CDC guidelines with regard to testing for respiratory illness like COVID-19. Per CDC guidance, VHC would be screening for individuals who have fever or signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness, requiring hospitalization, who have had close contact with a laboratory confirmed COVID-19 patient or have a history of travel from affected geographic areas (CDC designated Level 2 or 3) within 14 days of symptom onset.

The criteria is summarized in the VDH Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Testing on the VDH website.

If a patient does not meet this current criteria and he or she has a concern or question, they should first contact their primary care provider or their local health department for guidance.

At this time there are no reported cases in Virginia and, for the general American public, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low, according to the CDC. Members of our community are encouraged to follow the guidelines posted on the CDC’s websiteand provided by their local/county health departments. Currently those guidelines include:

  • Asymptomatic travelers who recently visited outbreak affected areas should monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days after returning.
  • Travelers returning from affected geographic areas (CDC designated Level 2 or 3) should contact the Arlington County Public Health Department (ACPHD) to assess any possible exposure to COVID-19.
  • If you feel sick with fever, develop a cough or have shortness of breath (i.e., difficulty breathing), you should:
    • Seek medical care right away. If you can, please call your doctor or emergency department before seeking care and tell them about your travel and your symptoms.
    • Avoid contact with others.
    • Not travel while sick.

VHC has had experience dealing with H1N1 and other outbreaks that have prepared us to safely respond to coronavirus cases. We are actively engaged with state, federal, and local partners to prepare for the potential arrival and spread of COVID-19. VHC’s top priority is always the safety of patients and staff and healthy outcomes for patients and their families. VHC’s plan for treating potential COVID-19 cases is to remain consistent with CDC guidelines which include:

  • Following our hospital policies and practices to contain exposure to respiratory pathogens.
  • Following the CDC’s clinical criteria for evaluation of Persons Under Investigation (PUI) for possible COVID-19.
  • Ensuring rapid triage and isolation of patients with symptoms of suspected COVID-19 or other respiratory infection.
  • Informing local and state public health authorities.
  • Conducting testing and specimen collection in accordance with current CDC guidelines.
  • Testing is available and we will be appropriately testing when symptoms warrant per CDC guidelines.

The full email sent by Arlington Public Schools today is below, after the jump.

Dear APS Parents and Guardians,

We are writing to provide you with additional information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the steps Arlington Public Schools (APS) is continuing to take to protect all staff and students.

This week, APS continued to stay in close contact with local health officials for guidance and convened a COVID-19 planning and preparedness meeting with members of the School Health Bureau and APS leadership. The team reviewed the latest available information on the virus and discussed efforts to ensure the health and safety of APS staff and students.

As we move forward, we are preparing for the possibility of school closures in the future, if necessary. […]

According to the CDC, risk to the general American public remains low. However, we have seen the first confirmed cases in the National Capitol area. This situation is developing rapidly, and we are continuing to follow CDC guidance. Any future decision to change operations or close one or more schools due to COVID-19 or other health risks, would be made in close collaboration with the Arlington County Public Health Division (ACPDH) based on CDC guidance.

We have heard from families seeking additional information about the steps we are taking to prevent the spread of the virus in schools and to prepare to deliver essential services in the event of school closures. The following information highlights steps being taken by APS to safeguard students and staff, as well as a high-level summary COVID-19 plans.

APS Procedures in Schools and Offices 

  • APS custodians continue to focus on cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and materials in schools and offices, using the CDC/EPA-approved chemicals for this virus.
  • School Health is monitoring student health and absentee rates at all schools to assess and respond to any change in illnesses occurring in schools.
  • APS continues to work with the ACPHD to reinforce effective  preventative steps to reduce the spread of illnesses in school, such as:
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible.
  • Cover mouth and hands with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Stay home when sick – and only return to school when children and staff are symptom-free for 24 hours, including the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • Keep their distance from people who are sick – and encourage sick people they encounter to go home and seek care as needed.
  • Avoid non-essential travel
  • In consultation with ACPHD, updated guidance on proper handwashing, including expectations for students and staff, was shared with all schools on March 4, along with posters on handwashing display prominently in their schools.

In the Event of School Closures 

Any future decision to change operations or close one or more schools due to COVID-19 or other health risks, would be made in close collaboration with the ACPDH based on CDC guidance.

  • APS is preparing to provide  instructional activities to all students in grades PreK-12, based on available tools, should we need to close school.
  • In order to meet the needs of all students and families, activities and tools will vary by grade level and will be provided online and in hard copy when possible.
  • Examples of options under review include providing book sets and materials for core subjects; using available devices,  instructional apps and learning platforms (e.g., Canvas and Seesaw);  and making educational materials and videos available on the APS website.
  • Depending on recommendations, APS will provide meals for students who receive Free or Reduced-Price Meals at designated locations. APS will communicate this information to families, if needed and available.
  • Families and staff will be updated through normal APS communications channels.

Travel Outside of the U.S.

Educational and Staff Travel  

APS will not approve any international field trips and short-term visitations to and from countries that are highlighted on the CDC’s list as destinations with an alert level of 2 or greater for travelers. APS will continue to monitor recommendations and information from the CDC and make any necessary changes based on updated information.

Student/Family Travel 

APS encourages families to avoid travel to countries that are highlighted on the CDC’s list as destinations with an alert level of 2 or greater for travelers. If families travel to any of these countries, please follow the CDC recommendations and guidelines upon reentry to the United States.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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