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Teachers' Union Issues Coronavirus Recommendations for Schools, Calls on Feds to Do More

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The head of the American Federation of Teachers is calling on the Trump Administration to provide educators and other groups of professionals who deal closely with the public more guidance on how to respond to the growing coronavirus threat.

In a press conference Tuesday, which also included representatives from unions for nurses and flight attendants as well as a medical expert, AFT President Randi Weingarten said educators and school nurses need more specific instructions on what they should do to prepare for an increase in coronavirus cases in the U.S.

Part of the problem is that there are gaps in the resources provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local state agencies, said Jaqueline Moline, the vice president of occupational medicine, epidemiology, and prevention at Northwell Health in New York.

"If we're looking to the CDC for guidance, which we certainly should be ..., they're often deferring to state agencies. And then if you go to the state, they refer you back to the CDC," she said. "So, it's an endless loop where you're looking for concrete information that doesn't seem to be there yet."

The fact that the coronavirus shares many symptoms with the flu—and that it's the height of flu season—complicates the situation for schools. But it also means that, most likely, a student with a fever and respiratory symptoms probably has the flu.

Moline recommends that if a child is running a fever at school to ask if they or a family member has recently been to China.

"If the answer is no, then in the United States right now they should be treated as ... you have the flu or you've got one of these bugs going around, because chances are, that's what it is," Moline said. "We need to make sure that we realize there have been 10,000 deaths from flu and 19 million cases of the flu so far this year here in the United States. That is what people in all likelihood will be presenting with, particularly if they have no travel history. So, we have to look at it in context."

So far there have been 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S., according to the CDC, with another 82 cases waiting for results. No one has died of coronavirus in the U.S. at this time.

Globally, there have been more than 20,630 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 426 deaths, the vast majority of which are in China, according to the World Health Organization.

If a school nurse suspects a student may have coronavirus, the school should contact state or local public health department to report the case, according to guidelines put together by the AFT.

Moline and Weingarten also recommended that principals encourage sick students and staff to stay home and that there should not be any repercussions for doing so.

Other recommendations for schools from the AFT include:

  • Evaluating ventilation systems to ensure they are delivering adequately fresh air to classrooms;
  • Isolating students with fever and respiratory symptoms as much as possible from their peers while they are at school until they can be picked up;
  • Coordinating with the local health department to develop a response should the coronavirus spread in their community;
  • Educating and providing students, staff, and parents with reminders—such as posters—on preventing the spread of virus including washing hands, not touching faces, and staying home when sick;  
  • Instructing custodial and classroom staff to follow appropriate disinfection practices that focus on keeping high-touch areas such as doorknobs disinfected without overusing cleaners that could be bad for students with asthma.

The AFT has compiled additional recommendations for school nurses and custodians, which can be found here.

In the press conference, Weingarten said the lack of information on how to respond to the coronavirus is contributing to panic and the likelihood of profiling people of Chinese descent.

Weingarten emphasized that her core message to educators is this: "No panic, no profiling, and wash your hands."

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