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Coronavirus: How Some Schools Are Responding

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While federal health officials have said that the coronavirus is potentially a serious public health threat, most Americans, at this point, are not at risk. That, however, is not stopping educators from worrying and wondering how best to prepare for a possible case of coronavirus in their own schools and communities.

So far, there have been five confirmed cases in the United States of the new respiratory illness that first broke out in Wuhan, China and has sickened more than 4,500 people there. In total, there are 6,000 reported cases globally and more than 100 people have died, although there have been no deaths in the U.S.

Although there are only a handful of confirmed cases here at home, some schools have had to grapple with the possibility that their students were exposed to the coronavirus.

In Florida's Palm Beach County, a group of 30 high school students and three teachers have been told to stay home from school after having been potentially exposed to coronavirus while attending a Model United Nations event at Yale University, according to the Palm Beach Post. The event was canceled midway through when a Chinese student was taken to a local hospital with a cough and a fever. Test results to see if the student has coronavirus haven't come back yet, but the student did test positive for the flu.

A charter school in Philadelphia had a scare when a Chinese exchange student got sick, but tests later showed the student did not have coronavirus. The school, however, told parents it was ending the exchange program, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Some Schools Are Taking Precautions on Coronavirus

Schools in other parts of the country have been taking preventative measures.

The Fairfax County schools in Virginia have canceled visits from Chinese students participating in a foreign exchange program, according to the local CBS affiliate.  

Other districts, such as Chicago Public Schools and Montgomery County Schools in Maryland have sent out information to their families with guidance on preventing the spread of viruses including:

  • Thoroughly washing hands for at least 20 seconds;
  • Using hand sanitizer when washing hands with soap and water is not available;
  • Disinfecting surfaces;
  • Covering noses and mouths with a tissue or cloth when sneezing;
  • Staying away from sick people, and staying home if you, yourself, are sick.

"As you know, this is the annual influenza season, so the usual prevention methods are recommended by the CDC," said Linda Mendonca, the president elect of the National Association of School Nurses.

Custodial staff also play an important role in slowing the spread of any virus, she said, especially by disinfecting surfaces such as door handles that students and staff frequently touch. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has some guidance for people who may have the coronavirus and the people who must take care of them, but the CDC does not have any specific guidance on coronavirus for schools.

However, the CDC remains an important resource for school leaders, said Mendonca, as do local health agencies.

"They need to go to their local health departments for guidance, because this is evolving each day," she said. "Being aware and knowledgeable is important."

Finally, a couple of school districts in Arizona are warning families to be on the look out for coronavirus hoaxes, according to azfamily.com. A fake breaking news alert claiming that students who attend Mesa Public Schools had contracted the coronavirus was circulating on social media.

UPDATE: This story was updated to include quotes from an official with the National School Nurses Association.

Photo: Some revelers wear face masks during a Chinese New Year celebration in Brooklyn, N.Y., last weekend.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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