An updated version of this blog post is now available containing recent information as of March 11, 2020.
Each year, schools fight to prevent the spread of all sorts of germs and illnesses. This year, there’s another virus to be concerned about—novel coronavirus (COVID-19). As the COVID-19 outbreak spreads and cases are identified in the United States, schools should consider what precautions to take to keep their students and staff healthy.
Business as Usual
In some ways, schools are more than prepared to handle concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19. School administration should fight the spread of COVID-19 in the same way it fights the spread of the common cold or flu every year:
- Follow the school’s standard cleaning and sanitizing procedures, paying special attention to commonly touched surfaces, such as desks, doorknobs, computer keyboards, and faucet handles.
- Encourage students and staff to stay home when they are feeling ill and to remain at home until they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours.
- Remind students and staff to wash their hands regularly, and make sure soap, hand sanitizer, and paper towel dispensers remain well-stocked.
- If a sick student is identified, follow standard procedures for isolating that student in an area where he or she will have limited contact with other students and staff until the student is able to go home.
At this time, the need for extra precautions is limited because the threat of COVID-19 spreading in U.S. and Iowa schools is low. As cases of the virus are confirmed in the U.S., schools should monitor guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and state and local departments of public health regarding necessary precautions. Schools can gather initial guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH).
Students Who Have Traveled to China
If you have a student who has recently traveled to China, the student may be required to undergo symptom monitoring and isolation. This will be handled by state and local public health officials.
Students who have recently traveled to China but appear healthy should not be isolated.
If a student exhibits symptoms of fever or respiratory infection, the student should seek medical attention. School nurses should confirm whether the student has recently traveled abroad or if the student has been in contact with someone who has. Schools can report suspected cases of COVID-19 by contacting their local department of public health.
The CDC currently advises against any non-essential travel to China, and the U.S. Department of State currently advises against travel to China. If you have any school trips planned to China, contact your travel agency to determine your options for cancellation.
WHO Daily Reports
As COVID-19 spreads outside of China, schools should consider safety risks to students when planning any trips abroad. Currently, the CDC does not generally advise canceling or postponing trips to other countries; however, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been identified in almost 30 countries. The World Health Organization’s daily Novel Coronavirus situation reports include data related to confirmed cases.
CDC Travel Advisories
The CDC has issued travel notices for Hong Kong and Japan but simply recommends using usual travel precautions. Updated CDC travel advisories related to COVID-19 will be posted here.
If you do have a school international trip planned, students and parents should be made aware of the risks, and be informed that the school assumes no liability related to the student’s voluntary participation in the trip. You may want to consider having parents and students sign a waiver releasing the school from any liability and acknowledging the parent and student’s assumption of the risks associated with international travel.
The Big Picture
For now, schools should simply follow their standard procedures for ensuring they provide a safe and healthy environment for students and staff. When planning trips outside the United States, schools should monitor the global spread of COVID-19, cancel or postpone any trips to high-risk areas or reschedule to safer destinations, and consider obtaining trip waivers from students.
Iowa schools with questions about COVID-19 should contact IDPH’s Center for Acute Disease Epidemiology at (800) 362-2736.
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