Published February 29. 2020 09:00AM
School districts in the area are preparing for the possibility of the coronavirus outbreak spreading to Pennsylvania, even though there have been no reported cases of the illness in the commonwealth.
Administrators have been contacting parents and posting messages on school district websites offering suggestions for how to prevent the spread of the disease known as “COVID-19.”
“Hopefully this scenario never presents itself, but if it does, we are taking steps to prepare,” said John Rushefksi, superintendent of Jim Thorpe Area School District.
There have been more than 82,000 cases of COVID-19 reported nationwide, with the overwhelming majority in China. However the disease has now spread to 46 countries including the United States, prompting federal and state health agencies to begin planning for a possible wider spread.
Locally, school districts have offered tips to prevent disease transmission, and outlined the steps they’re taking to do the same.
Most of the recommendations are similar to what health officials recommend for preventing influenza.
Some districts said they have directed their custodians to do additional disinfecting on top of the work they already do.
Jim Thorpe, Northern Lehigh, Lehighton, Palmerton and Pleasant Valley all said they’ve given special instructions to their custodians.
Tamaqua and Panther Valley said they will be implementing procedures next week.
Districts are also recommending that parents follow the Department of Health’s measures for preventing spread:
• Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow, not your hands.
• Wash hands often, for at least 20 seconds, using soap and water. If soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Clean surfaces frequently including counter tops, light switches, cellphones and remotes.
• If a child has a fever of at least 100 degrees, keep them out of school until they are fever-free for 24 hours without medication.
Pleasant Valley acting superintendent Charlene Brennan said she has asked the principals in the district to inform her if any students have plans to travel outside the country.
“We are taking this very seriously,” she said.
Breenan is scheduling a meeting next week to discuss how the district would handle the situation.
“We’re putting together plans, just in case,” she said.
William Gasper, director of operations for the district, has taken the initiative to implement new cleaning procedures.
“We increased our procedures,” he said.
Now, the custodial staff must sanitize every day all desks and all items that are touched by human hands in all of the district’s school buildings.
If a situation arises where the school would close for an extended period of time, Jim Thorpe is looking at continuing classes through the laptops and iPads which it provides to every student.
“We think we have the technology infrastructure to do something like that,” Rushefski said.
Times News reporter Kristine Porter contributed to this story.
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