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With two confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the state, area schools are making preparedness plans for what to do if the virus spreads to area communities.
At Nevis School, a letter posted on the school website explains how the district is preparing to respond.
“The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has developed a COVID-19 team responsible for proactively sharing information with schools,” the letter states. “This team has initiated a weekly phone conference with schools as a means of keeping districts informed of new information on the virus. The COVID-19 team will help schools monitor health concerns and provide up-to-date information on how to mitigate the potential for contracting the virus.”
Superintendent Gregg Parks said the district is currently in the prevention stage.
“Custodial staff are already using disinfectants which are effective against the flu and COVID-19,” the letter states. “Additionally, our custodians are checking to make sure the hand sanitizers are full and in operational condition in all of the rooms.”
The school is also following the preventative steps outlined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the MDE:
Encourage students to frequently wash hands and make it mandatory prior to breakfast and lunch
Cover your cough. Viruses need a host to survive and do not last long outside of the human body. Much like flu viruses, the COVID-19 virus is spread through close contact (within 6 feet) and respiratory droplets and only survive for a few hours outside of a host.
Sanitize frequently touched areas.
Do not share water bottles or beverages with others.
Stay home if you are exhibiting cold and flu-like symptoms.
The district will use the same communication systems used during inclement weather to keep parents informed as the situation develops.
Parks said the school is also formulating plans for a staged response, developed by Jill Johnson, a RN and Licensed School Nurse Consultant with Hennepin Healthcare, based upon information from MDE and plans developed during the H1N1 preparations in 2009-2010.
That model proposes steps for addressing Stage One to Stage Three of risk.
Stage One will be implemented when community transmission occurs in Minnesota without a known cause.
Stage Two when a case appears in the area, and Stage Three when either the local or Minnesota Health Department (MDH) instructs the school to close or there is a case involving a student, staff member or relative the student or staff are in close contact with.
Parks stressed that this is just a draft and final determination would be made with guidance from the MDH and CDC, including decisions about students who have traveled to areas with cases of the COVID-19 virus.
Park Rapids Schools
Park Rapids Area Schools continues to be updated by the MDH, said Superintendent Lance Bagstad. “Jennifer Jackson, our school nurse, and I have communicated regularly. At this time, we are following the MDH recommendations as they are presented.”
Bagstad added that Jackson “is working to develop internal communications and procedures.”
“The main thing right now is that we are closely following along with MDH and their updates,” said Jackson. “There are weekly telephone meetings/updates as well as information on their website and CDC's website. I monitor these frequently. As of right now, all information seems to be about planning, preparing and prevention. I will be trying to assist in getting communications out to staff and students within the school about proper handwashing and sick care/prevention and cleanliness within the school.”
Mnehaga Superintendent Kevin Wellen reported that “Menahga does have, as part of our crisis plan, a section entitled ‘Highly contagious, serious illness or pandemic flu.’ It gives us guidance in case of an outbreak at the school. Right now, we are relying on the advice of the experts. MDE and MDH began weekly phone conferences last Wednesday and we have participated in them.”
The focus has been on prevention, Wellen said. “While we have good cleaning and sanitizing practices in place, we have stepped it up. We have increased hand-sanitizing stations in the school, distributed disinfecting wipes to every classroom and made sure Kleenex are readily available. We have stepped up our daily cleaning protocol and we are encouraging those feeling sick to stay home.
“If the CDC and MDH would recommend closing, school at some point, I don't expect it to vary much from weather closings,” he continued “This year we have an eLearning day plan, which we could also implement if necessary. We will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as we get more information from the CDC and MDH.”