From the Superintendent's Desk
Mark Tucker, M.A. - Caledonia Central Supervisory Union
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Awareness in CCSU
It has been only about a month since initial reports from China of a new infectious disease called Coronavirus (COVID-19) first hit the news in the United States. It’s hard to keep up with the numbers, but just a week ago there were more than 77,000 reported cases in China and nearly 2000 more worldwide, with nearly 2500 associated deaths. In that same period there were 53 reported cases in the United States, but that number will change as the infection is spreading.
Thousands of reputable news sources – and a few less so – report almost hourly on COVID-19. My aim in this newsletter is to advise the school communities of Caledonia Central SU (Barnet, Cabot, Danville, Peacham, Twinfield, Walden and Waterford) about what we know so far as the State of Vermont gears up to respond to the potential outbreak of COVID-19 in Vermont.
While we have been monitoring the news, two events last Thursday (2/27) elevated our awareness. The first was an email from the Agency of Education, advising Superintendents to expect a detailed memorandum on COVID-19 preparedness in schools from the Agency and the Vermont Department of Health on Friday. The second event was the announcement by St. Johnsbury Academy, in a letter from Headmaster Tom Lovett to Academy families, announcing the early return of two groups of students who had been on field trips in Italy, one of the countries where COVID-19 has recently spread. The initial advice from the Department of Health to the Academy was that those returning students and their families should plan to isolate at home for a two-week monitoring period. That advice was subsequently modified yesterday afternoon, when the Department of Health determined that students who show no symptoms do not present a risk of transmission and the home monitoring requirement was lifted. I want to thank the Academy for its care and communication in this matter, both in bringing their students home early and for being both cautious and publicly transparent about the situation.
The memorandum from Secretary French arrived late yesterday afternoon. You can read it in its entirety at https://education.vermont.gov/sites/aoe/files/documents/edu-memo-french-covid19-guidance.pdf but I want to call out a few highlights here:
- There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vermont as of February 28th.
- While being discussed logistically, there are no immediate plans for any wide-scale closure of Vermont Schools, something that has been reported on in other states where the infection has taken hold (e.g., California).
- The Agency of Education, along with all agencies in State Government, is monitoring the unfolding situation and they will be updating us if the circumstances change, especially if confirmed cases of COVID-19 arise in Vermont. (My comment on this is that those responsible for such things are planning for all of the contingencies, but relying on fact, not rumor, to guide their decision-making process.)
Health authorities have described COVID-19 transmission paths (how one catches it) similar to the way that the common cold and flu are transmitted, through respiratory exposure – coughing and sneezing by an infected person directly onto another person or onto surfaces. So, everything you already know about avoiding cold and flu apply here, too:
- Frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with your sleeve or a tissue. Throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
I emphasized the stay at home advice as a reminder to caregivers. We say this every year, and we hear from some families that it is difficult to take time from work to care for sick children at home. Given that we don’t know how widely this disease will spread and what the impact will ultimately be, I am asking families to err on the side of caution and keep your sick children at home. School nurses are being advised to send children home who arrive at school with symptoms, even though on the surface we cannot know if the child has a bad cold or something worse. I will be sharing the same advice about staying home with our employees in a separate communication to staff.
I expect updates from the Agency of Education as the days and weeks go on and we learn more about the extent of the risk of COVID-19 and its impact on our children and our schools. In the meantime, you may well have more questions than I can answer here. The Secretary’s memorandum refers parents to the Vermont Department of Health’s COVID-19 website at https://www.healthvermont.gov/response/infectious-disease/2019-novel-coronavirus as a resource for answers to your questions.
Talking to your Children
I was asked to address parent concerns about the best way to talk to your children about Coronavirus. All of our children who have a presence in the online world - and that is almost all of our children – are exposed to the news and rumors about Coronavirus. Sometimes that news is coming from reputable sites, sometimes not. Children are less able to parse truth from reality – something that is getting harder for all of us these days – and my reading on this topic all points to one common theme. The best way to manage your child’s fear is for you to talk to them openly and honestly, but you need to know what to say. I looked at a few sites yesterday and found one in particular that I liked, among many others: https://parenting.nytimes.com/childrens-health/coronavirus-kids-talk.
But don’t rely on my internet skills – I found the above article with a Google search “How to talk to kids about Coronavirus,” which in typical Google style returned a few hundred million hits.
Other Reputable Sources
Here are a couple of other sources online that I believe are fact-based, reliable, and timely:
Who is most at risk of contracting coronavirus? | World news | The Guardian
Update: Public Health Response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak — United States, February 24, 2020 | MMWR
Mark Tucker, M.A.
Superintendent, Caledonia Central SU
Note: This is the first in a likely series of newsletters as we learn about the the impact of Coronavirus in our schools and communities.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this newsletter is meant to substitute for medical advice from your family practitioner