Indiana has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, but as more cases of the novel coronavirus are recorded across the country, local schools have started considering what they could do to prevent the virus from spreading.
Last week the state Department of Education advised schools to review their pandemic plans and consult with their local health department. The memo, sent to superintendents and administrators on Friday, instructed schools to monitor students by looking for symptoms, which could include a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
More immediately, the department instructed schools to encourage students and staff to prevent spreading any illness by staying home if they are sick and practicing good hygiene, including by washing their hands, covering their coughs and sneezes, and avoiding touching their face.
Over the weekend the U.S. recorded its first two deaths related to the virus at a nursing facility in Seattle. As of Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 43 cases of the respiratory virus detected and tested in the U.S., including some in Illinois. A handful of schools in three states closed Monday in response to suspected or confirmed cases.
This comes after officials said a global pandemic is likely. And schools could play an important role in slowing its spread.
At Indianapolis Public Schools, administrators told school board members last week that they are being proactive and are following health department guidance.
“The basics are the same as flu,” said the district’s Unified Student Supports Officer Brent Freeman, who oversees student health. “We’re reminding our schools about some of those basic precautions and then also just monitoring the situation.”
The CDC recommends that schools review and update their emergency plans, routinely clean doorknobs and light switches, and monitor how many students and staff members are calling in sick. Students who show up at school sick should be separated from their classmates and sent home as soon as possible, according to the CDC website.
If a school has a confirmed case of COVID-19, the CDC suggests districts consider temporarily closing it for students, but staying open for staff so they can find a way to teach remotely. Some Indiana districts, but not all, already provide students laptops and online learning. However, not all families have internet access in their homes.
If schools were to close, the department also encourages schools to find a way to continue distributing food to students who rely on a free lunch, such as meal delivery.
Angela Sheffield, an educator in Lafayette, said her students are reading articles about the virus and discussing their concerns. She responded to a Chalkbeat survey on the coronavirus saying she doesn’t know if her school has a plan.
“What is our plan?” she asked. “Do we have a plan? Will anyone be addressing this? Give us information! If we have information about our school’s plan, we can address any problems directly.”
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