No confirmed cases of COVID-19, better known as coronavirus, have emerged in Missouri or Kansas. But as officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn the virus could well spread in the United States, local school and health officials say they’ve fielded plenty of questions about the virus and have discussed preparations and preventive measures.
Katie Maxey, director of emergency preparedness for the Jackson County Health Department, said her office has received some inquiries from schools and other agencies regarding the virus and thus far has encouraged them to share the normal flu preventative measures.
In general, such preventative measures will be just as effective with coronavirus:
• Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
• If water’s not available, use a 60-percent alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
• Cover coughs and sneezes (including possibly one’s elbow).
• Avoid close contact with sick people.
• Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces often (regular household cleaners will work).
• Stay home and/or delay travel plans if you are sick.
Generally, symptoms include fever and signs of lower respiratory illness such as coughing or shortness of breath.
Maxey said the Health Department has been monitoring a handful of people who have recently traveled to affected areas, “but that doesn’t mean they’ve shown any symptoms.” To monitor a person, the department contacts them, gets any possible symptoms, then regularly checks in for 14 days to ask for body temperature and other possible signs. If that person develops symptoms in line with the virus and warrants testing, the department coordinates with the state public health lab to have a specimen sent to them and forwarded to the CDC.
This week, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said it had been approved by the CDC to begin providing testing Thursday, and its lab can provide same-day results.
Regarding masks, Maxey said they won’t simply prevent people from contracting the virus, but they can help prevent spreading a virus if someone is coughing or sneezing. Healthy people shouldn’t wear one unless they’ve been treating a possible coronavirus patient.
Earlier this month, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services told school health personnel across the state that staff and students returning to Missouri after traveling to China would be monitored by public health, and schools would not need to notify public health of such people. Schools could then work with such isolated people to make up assignments if necessary, and the state advised them to share the usual precautions recommended for flu season.
The Independence School District told all district families that nurses will continue to monitor and track student illnesses review guidance from federal and local health offices; schools will continue to use regular cleaning methods and add some “deep-cleaning disinfection efforts.” The district also has increased hygiene reminders for students such as hand-washing and covering noses and mouths. It also reminded families that staying home with flu symptoms is the best way to prevent spreading them.
Bob Jerome, assistant superintendent of the Blue Springs School District, said district staff has met a couple times regarding coronavirus prep, and next week several area school superintendents will meet to discuss possible protocols if a widespread outbreak happens in the metro area.
Jerome said the last time he recalls a health-related hypothetical like an extended shutdown coming up was the H1N1 virus about a decade ago. Some districts are well-suited to handle that, he said, with a 1:1 student to technology ratio in all grades.
Jerome said the district will send out communication to district families next week about coronavirus-related plans.