ATLANTA — With the first two coronavirus cases confirmed in Georgia in Fulton County, there's now a question facing public officials of what to do in the event the illness spreads.
That question is no more acute than for school officials, who are charged with protecting those most vulnerable to an outbreak, and also most likely to spread it.
They face a difficult decision - when, or if, to close schools? - one with no easy answer: In a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the CDC here in Atlanta, indicated closing schools may not be the right answer even in the course of an outbreak.
She cited the 2009 swine flu pandemic and said "we learned it was too disruptive" to send hundreds of thousands of students home with a "relatively mild" virus such as that one.
"We dialed that back to staying home when sick, perhaps canceling assembles, changing patterns of what's done in class," she said.
The goal, she said, was to try to keep classes going because of how central they are to so many families. But also understand that the responsibility is to "protect the vulnerable and reduce spread."
11Alive is reaching out to districts around the metro to see how they are formulating contingency plans in the event of an outbreak or if a student contracts the illness:
Atlanta Public Schools
APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen wrote on her blog that "APS stands at the ready to institute our emergency management practices" and, if closures are necessary, the district can turn to its APS WeatherWise online learning platform.
Here is the full blog post:
Carstarphen also joined 11Alive's Jeff Hullinger in studio for a one-on-one about the district's plans. Listen to the interview below.
The Barrow County School System issued this statement:
- We have a pandemic flu plan that we developed years ago and we are reviewing and updating that plan. In addition we are in contact with local health officials about community wide plans for our area and will follow the guidance of health officials at the local and state level should a case of coronavirus be confirmed in our area.
The Bartow County School System is holding an informational session for parents and the community on Wednesday. They have issued this guidance:
Clayton County Public Schools
Clayton County Public Schools says it is is "preparing for all possibilities regarding the spread of this virus as well as enhancing preventative measures to safeguard the students and stakeholders of Clayton County Public Schools."
The system has a full statement on Facebook:
The district has also launched a webpage to serve as a one-stop spot to find out how the district is responding to the coronavirus.
A district spokesperson issued the following statement:
- As we carefully monitor the situation, the District will continue to stay in constant communication with Georgia Department of Health officials and will follow their guidance every step of the way in order to keep our students and staff safe. Our schools continue to remind students and staff on how to prevent the spread of illness including hand washing, covering mouths when they cough, and keeping their hands away from their face. Parents are urged to keep students at home if they have any symptoms of sickness.
They also provided links to the following resources:
The school system convened a pandemic protocol committee late in February and is meeting weekly to address the issue.
Here is a letter the system sent to parents:
The district says it has formed a cross-divisional coronavirus taskforce that will "continually review current guidance from local, state and federal agencies and proactively identify a strategic response plan for the school district."
Here is the district's full statement:
The district said they are following the guidance received from the CDC, the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Cobb/Douglas Public Health departments.
According to Superintendent Trent North, department heads in the school system and nurses are providing protocols for school administrators, students, health monitors, custodians, school nutrition workers, transportation personnel and others.
"With guidance from the CDC, the school system has put several practices in place which will mitigate the spread of any disease," North said.
Some of the practices include:
- Taking extra steps to clean our high touch surfaces every day
- Demonstrating and encouraging proper handwashing techniques with students
- Enforcing the rule that a student with a fever should not return to school until being fever-free without medication for 24 hours
- Monitoring student absences daily
Preliminary confirmation of Georgia's third coronavirus case was announced in Floyd County on March 6. The school system says adding hand sanitizers at schools and fogging them once a week with sanitizer.
Here is the full statement from Floyd County Schools:
In the event the governor or other officials mandate school closings in the future, we are working with our schools to have work ready to go home along with digital learning plans.
We are in the process of adding additional hand sanitizers in high traffic areas at every school. We are fogging all schools once a week with an FDA approved sanitizer (will kill coronavirus) to sanitize them as well as wipes.
We are taking all the steps that we can at this point to keep our students and staff safe.
Forsyth County Schools says it is "not canceling current of future activities, athletics and field trips" at this time and is "working to keep surfaces often as clean as possible" as it monitors the health and attendance of students and staff
The district has issued this notice:
Fulton County Schools says, with cases confirmed in the county, it is "developing a plan to limit non-essential school activities and travel to lessen the risk of exposure," while planning to continue to operate schools on a normal schedule.
Here is the system's full statement:
- Also note the school's dedicated website for coronavirus information, www.fultonschools.org/coronavirus.
Fulton County Schools also confirmed to 11Alive that the principal at Autrey Mill Middle decided to postpone its Multicultural Night as a precaution.
"As you know, Multicultural Night has been a fabulous tradition here at the Mill for several years! Many parents and staff members have spent hours preparing for this event," part of the letter that was sent home to parents reads. "However, out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to postpone Multicultural Night because of the potential impact of COVID-19. We have been listening to health officials, and we have had several parent concerns about having the event tonight. We will let you know when we have secured a future date."
Bernard Watson, the director of community and media relations for Gwinnett County Public Schools, issued this statement:
- Gwinnett County Public Schools has been in close contact with our local and state health partners. The school district has a pandemic plan, which is being reviewed to support the health and safety of our students, staff, and community. In the event of an outbreak in our community, we would follow our public health partners’ lead on any quarantines, closures, or other health measures as necessary. Our focus continues to be ensuring the safety of all students and staff, and continuing education with minimal disruption. We have added a section on our district webpage to keep our community updated on this evolving issue.
The school district has also issued this advisory:
The district says it is "planning for a range for scenarios and is working with the Paulding County Health Department to be prepared should COVID-19 begin to have an impact in our community."
It has issued this advisory:
We will continue to update as school districts respond.
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