Tele-schooling. Hand sanitizers. Warning posters and enhanced disinfectant cleanings.
School districts across New Jersey are gearing up for a coronavirus outbreak, sending letters to parents and staff about their preventative measures and mitigation plans.
While the tone of the letters was measured and practical, the districts’ sweeping action only confirms the escalating fear felt throughout the state and beyond.
Federal health officials said earlier this week that schools, health departments and businesses should “dust off” their pandemic plans and prepare for the worst. The CDC announced an outbreak in the U.S. was “inevitable” and “could be bad.”
New Jersey schools have heeded the advice.
The Lakewood School District informed staff this week of the measures it is taking — mostly simple, hygiene-focused actions.
“We will be placing hand sanitizers throughout the buildings in common areas where there are no sinks and hand soap accessible in addition to routine scheduled cleaning,” according to a letter emailed to school district staff and obtained by NJ Advance Media.
Posters targeting students will be hung throughout school buildings.
“Prior to this issue we have issued spray bottles to every classroom with the approved cleaning solution to disinfect and kill several viruses including the human coronavirus,” the Lakewood letter read. “We will have additional staff helping to clean with disinfectant wipes all touch points, such as door knobs/handles, sink faucets, all surfaces etc. to ensure the cleanliness of our buildings.”
The New Jersey Department of Health updated its guidance for K-12 schools Feb. 3. And the state Department of Education, which is a member of New Jersey’s coronavirus task force, is providing guidance to school districts on how to prepare if the virus begins spreading within communities.
If a surge of cases emerged, home instruction or online instruction is an option, according to the Department of Education.
Lorraine Borek, former president of the New Jersey School Nurse Association, believes school districts across the state will be ready.
“We are always prepared for something. So over the course of the years, there have been several outbreaks, whether it be Zika virus, Ebola, recent issues with measles, outbreaks throughout the state,” Borek said. “So right now, the virus of concern is the coronavirus, but the preparedness is the same.”
U.S. schools are hardly alone in taking preventive measures. Japan ordered all of its schools from high school and below to close through spring break, which amounts to about a month.
Although there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Garden State, there are 195 asymptomatic people in self-quarantine based on their travel history, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Health said in an email.
“These individuals are monitored by local health officials,” the spokeswoman said. “None of the 195 individuals are considered high risk. These numbers change frequently as individuals rotate on and off of the 14-day quarantine period.”
The Cranford School District issued its own letter, asking parents to report any travel to areas enduring an outbreak.
It also informed the community it is monitoring CDC alerts and continuing to follow the current guidance posted by the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey Department of Health.
“The Department of Health and the Cranford Public Schools recommend that all families with a child who (within the past two weeks) has traveled to an area of the world highly impacted by the Coronavirus, to please contact their child’s principal and/or school nurse prior to sending their child back to school,” said the letter, which was obtained by NJ Advance Media.
“The District and school nurses will refer these cases to our Health Department as they have the jurisdictional responsibility and will work with these families to determine the appropriate timeline for reentry to school. Please only notify the school district about your own child/children who have recently traveled to a country impacted by the Coronavirus. We cannot discuss the health concerns of other students due to confidentiality restrictions.”
The school district is also “enhancing daily cleaning and sanitizing at all of our schools,” including having schools equipped with hand sanitizer dispensers.
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