As you can imagine, as Villa's Head of School, I am on the receiving end of "tons" of information concerning the coronavirus from a variety of different associations and entities (our accreditation agency, the Northwest Association of Independent Schools (NWAIS); the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS); the Office of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Seattle; the Office of Public Health for Seattle & King County, etc.) in addition to what I receive from colleagues and community members. Also, like you, I'm seeing the continuing coverage on a variety of media outlets. All of the information and coverage can be confusing, if not overwhelming.
It's with this in mind that I want to reiterate some of the points/protocols that I've shared with you previously - that are still being recommended by health experts. At this time, Villa Academy does not need to take any special precautions beyond what is normally recommended to prevent the spread of viruses in schools. These precautions include:
Faculty/staff, volunteers and students should stay home when they are sick.
Everyone should follow the fundamentals:
Frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing one's nose. Adults should help young children do the same. If hands are visibly dirty, use soap and water to clean hands.
If soap and water are not readily available, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Everyone should cover their coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash; additionally, all should clean their hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer (if soap and water are not readily available).
Everyone should avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Villa Academy's maintenance crew will continue to follow the routine cleaning and disinfection procedures.
At this time, all planned activities at Villa, including the VPA meeting on March 3rd (6:00 PM - Parlor - featuring Villa Academy's Lower School Director, Julie Grasseschi) and the special presentation with Julie Metzger, (“Great Conversations to have with Kids - Top Ten Talks to Have Together," on Tuesday, March 3, at 7:00-8:30 pm in the Rainbow Theater) will be held as scheduled and announced. In other words, it's "business as usual" at Villa. If things change, I will certainly communicate that to you, ASAP.
Finally, as an FYI, I'm sharing, below, a recent communiqué from King County that was sent last evening to all school principals and nurses. As there is a lot here, I've gone through the note and highlighted some of the information that may be most useful.
John K. Milroy, Head of School
March 1, 2020
Dear School Nurses and Administrators,
As you've likely heard, over the past three days, we have confirmed multiple local novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and two deaths. Many of these cases are associated with a nursing facility in Kirkland, WA. We know that this news is worrisome to everyone, and we are working in close collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Washington Department of Health (DOH) to understand the connections between these cases and the implications for our community.
We anticipate that over the coming weeks, we will see an increasing number of people infected locally and across the United States. It's important to remember that most people who develop COVID-19 infection do not have a serious illness and can recover at home. About 20% have a more serious illness. As is the case with influenza, severe illness is more common in adults over age 60 and in those with underlying chronic medical conditions.
At this time, we are not recommending school closures or cancellation of activities. This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we will be certain to update you should our recommendations change.
To support you in your efforts to prepare for additional local cases, we are working with DOH and other state and regional bodies to update and develop resources to assist you in pandemic planning. Our partners at DOH anticipate having resources to share by the end of this week, if not sooner.
During this time of heightened anxiety, our community values are tested. We need to continue to demonstrate compassion and care as we navigate this global health situation. Please remind your students, their families, and your staff that COVID-19 infection is not connected with race, ethnicity, or nationality. Sharing accurate information is one of the best steps you can take to keep everyone healthy.
Below please find responses to frequently asked questions. We thank you for your continued partnership, and appreciate all that you are doing to keep our communities safe.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Where should I turn for accurate information or to ask specific questions?
Please continue to consult the CDC, DOH, and PHSKC webpages for the most up-to-date information:
Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Interim Guidance for Administrators of US Childcare Programs and K-12 Schools to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
Washington Department of Health (DOH), Coronavirus School Resources and Recommendations
Public Health – Seattle and King County (PHSKC), Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
If you have specific concerns about an exposure in your school, please call (206) 296-4774. We aim to address urgent questions as quickly as possible. For general questions about COVID-19 or Washington State's response, we encourage families, students, and the public to call the Washington State Call Center at 800-525-0127.
Given the increased number of cases, should our school take any additional precautions?
At this time, schools do not need to take any special precautions beyond what is normally recommended to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses. We strongly recommend that schools follow standard procedures for cleaning and reinforce the need for students and staff to stay home when sick, wash hands frequently, avoid touching one's face, and take other preventative steps outlined by DOH on their School Nurse and Administrator Resources and Recommendations webpage. Please continue to use this time to develop and update your district's pandemic plans. As mentioned, DOH intends to share planning tools later this week.
Should we cancel assemblies, sporting events or other gatherings?
At this time, we do not recommend that the general public avoid gatherings, and we are not recommending cancelling events. However, people who are at higher risk of illness may want to consider ways to lower their risk of infection, such as limiting contact with crowds. This includes people age 60 and older, those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease and lung disease and those who are immune compromised (see People at High Risk for Flu Complications). Individuals with underlying health issues should talk to their healthcare provider to develop a plan based on their specific health conditions.
Who should be tested for COVID-19?
Current CDC guidance recommends testing for the following people:
Ill with a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing AND have recent travel (in the past 14 days) to countries with widespread or ongoing community spread.
Ill with a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing AND have been identified by Public Health as a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case or had recent close contact with someone who is being evaluated for COVID-19 infection.
If someone meets the criteria, they should contact their healthcare provider by phone and call the Public Health Communicable Disease team at (206) 296-4774. Public Health is not currently recommending widespread testing for members of the general public. We anticipate testing guidance to change in the near term as more testing comes on-line at commercial laboratories.
Who should self-quarantine?
Self-quarantine means staying at home and away from others and self-monitoring for symptoms, including doing daily temperature checks. Individuals in the following categories should self-quarantine for 14 days:
Recent travelers of areas to countries with widespread or ongoing community spread.
Close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases. For example, Barry's wife, Shelly, works at a school in your district. Shelly was recently confirmed to have COVID-19. Barry should self-quarantine for 14 days, monitor symptoms, and notify his healthcare provider and Public Health if he becomes ill.
Who does not need to self-quarantine?
Contacts of asymptomatic people who have had close contact with a confirmed case do not need to self-quarantine. For example, Joni is a healthcare provider who has had contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case at work. She does not have any respiratory symptoms. Her son, Liam, does not need to self-quarantine and does not need an evaluation or testing for COVID-19. However, if Joni becomes sick with COVID-19, Liam will need to self-quarantine.
Will Public Health notify our schools if we have a case?
Yes, if Public Health is aware of a case in a King County school, we will contact key school personnel, such as the school nurse, principal, or district leadership.
A student or staff member in our district recently tested negative for COVID-19. Should the school require healthcare provider documentation for reentry?
School administrators should not require any letter or documentation from health care providers about their COVID-19 status. Requiring documentation is not recommended as a measure to protect public health at this time.
How should we talk about coronavirus with our students and other children in our lives?
This situation can raise fear and anxiety for both adults and children. Check out this helpful article and comic strip from NPR, "Just for Kids: A Comic Exploring the New Coronavirus."
Where can I find additional resources about stigma and discrimination?
Public Health – Seattle & King County has an anti-stigma toolkit with social media tools, a poster, infographic, and other information to help you prevent, interrupt, and respond to stigma.