ANCHORAGE (KTUU) – Schools across the nation are closely monitoring the threat of COVID-19 making its way into the classroom. Anchorage School District is no exception, according to leaders in the district.
Tom Roth is ASD’s Chief Operations Officer, who said the administration has been keeping up with reports and communicating with health officials at the state and municipal level since the coronavirus spread started to get serious in China in January.
“As we were kind of watching this develop, we recognized that there’s always potential that it could introduce here in Alaska,” Roth said.
Since then, he said the district’s Director of Health Services, Jennifer Patronas has been in constant contact with DHSS and Anchorage Health Department officials to get a leg up on any potential spread.
A major response by the district to the threat of an outbreak was made recently, when ASD cancelled all school funded trips. While disappointing to many parents who had already paid for those trips, Roth said the decision made by ASD Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop was necessary to protect the greater community.
“We certainly are not going to take risks with other people’s children,” Roth said.
For now, Roth said the district is acting in a preparatory way. There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alaska, so he said they are not reacting to anything yet.
Almost all of the preparations in place are planned in coordination with the state epidemiologists and local health officials, Roth said. However, final decisions affecting schools are made by the superintendent.
Patronas said students should stay home if they are sick, but protocol is in place if a student is sent to the nurse’s office showing symptoms of the virus.
She said if students show signs of respiratory illness, their temperature will be taken, and if the nurse suspects COVID-19, the student will be isolated. A face mask will then be placed on the sick child, and the nurse will put on protective clothing, according to the established protocol.
Patronas said this helps prevent immediate spread, so the nurse can further evaluate the child’s symptoms. If they continue to suspect the illness based on symptoms presented, officials from the state and municipality get involved. There is then a plan in place for transport from the school to Providence Hospital for further evaluation.
With ASD’s spring break beginning on Friday, March 6th, Patronas said additional measures will be taken to determine if a student may have COVID-19 after traveling out of state. Information on where they’ve been, who they’ve been interacting with, and what they’ve been doing will be documented and passed along to medical experts.
While students are away on break, Roth said the district will be deep cleaning schools and busses.
Leaders at the school district, DHSS, the CDC, and other organizations working to prevent the virus from spreading are all emphasizing good hygiene practices.
This means frequent hand washing, coughing into tissues or sleeves and avoiding touching one’s face above the chin.
Patronas said parents can help their kids do better at washing their hands by breaking down why it’s important in a way kids can understand. She also recommends parents washing their hands a lot at home, so their children are more likely to follow their lead.
When it comes to explaining how long kids need to be washing with soap and water, she said to tell children to sing their ABC’s or the Birthday Song to completion while washing.
Additionally, Patronas said many students have been showing up with surgical masks. This is against school policy, and she’s encouraging parents not to let their kids wear them to school.
She added that when not used properly, surgical masks can make the spread of an illness worse, and kids will often wear masks for longer periods of time then they’re supposed to. This allows germs to build up on the inside of the mask. If kids are putting them on and removing them repeatedly throughout the day, germs can also be transferred on surfaces where masks are placed temporarily. Furthermore, the students are exposed to any germs on the surface where they may have placed the mask.
As of now, Roth and Patronas said they aren’t quite sure what it would take for a school to close because of the virus. Roth said all of the advising medical experts would be consulted prior to any such decision.
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