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The Coronavirus & Schools

Winter 2020 is not the typical cold/flu season. The emergence of the novel 2019-nCoV or coronavirus is a rapidly evolving situation. Given the consquences for humanity, being prepared and diligent in practicing preventative measures, especially for the youngest among us, has been heightened. However, carefulness does not mean panic, as knee-jerk reactions are not effective strategies for protecting oneself and others from disease.

As Ron Walderman, professor of global health at The George Washington University says,

This is a call for caution, vigilance and surveillance.

Inside Higher Ed, January 27, 2020

Thus, many universities across the United States are sharing recommendations to their students, staff and faculty about monitoring any signs of illness. College officials are exercising caution, as students are returning to campuses for the start of the new semester, student populations and faculty are international in nature, and of course, students are densely packed in residence halls. So, in effort to protect everyone, universities are preemptively educating their communities.

At the same time, parents and college students can make additional preparations on their own. Marc Lipsitch, Harvard Professor of Epidemiology and Federal Advisor on H1N1 influenza, advises:

There’s a lot of uncertainty at this moment. People should keep listening to the reports to undertand better what the implications are [of the coronavirus].

The Harvard Gazette, January 30, 2020

Readiness preparations can include contemplating the extended closure of college campuses or the quarantine of a college campus. A query of an emergency plan on the college website can reveal campus emergency procedures, phone numbers for information and additional insight to how university officials may respond to the rapidly evolving public health concerns about coronavirus. Then, students and parents know how best to access help, should the need arise.

Researchers published in The Lancet, a renowed, international medical journal, warn that one possible response is containment, which:

To possibly succeed, substantial, even draconian measures that limit population mobility should be seriously and immediately considered in affected areas, as should strategies to drastically reduce within-population contact rates through cancellation of mass gatherings, school closures, and instituting work-from-home arrangements, for example.

The Lancet, January 31, 2020

In the case of a college campus closure, planning for travel to return home and exploring how parents can obtain a refund of fees and tuition are two questions to consider. Alternately, in the case of quarantine of a campus, having stores of medications, like asthma inhalers, as well as extra food and water are prudent backup plans.

Most importantly, when parents have frank discussions with college-aged children about the coronavirus, they can help calm fears and worries about contracting the illness. Already college students report:

I don’t know if I should be as worried about it as I am, but with this being the only thing on our minds, it’s difficult not to worry,” said Ms. [Sarah] Linck, [a junior at Arizona State University] who studies construction management.

New York Times, January 31, 2020

Students can have facts to make more objective and reasonable decisions to care for themselves. Otherwise, as another junior at Arizona State University, Carolyn Kleve, stated her dilemma:

Ms. Kleve has already skipped one day of classes, but said she cannot miss another without affecting her grades. Before she steps on campus each day, she puts on a mask and snaps on latex gloves. She also washes her hands furiously, but worries it is not enough.

“We’re trapped in a room of 20 to 30 people and I don’t know who has what illness,” Ms. Kleve said of her classes. “Have I already come into contact with it? Who knows.”

New York Times, January 31, 2020

K-12 schools are less public with their warnings to staff, teachers, parents and students about the coronavirus and cold/flu. So, in the absence of such systemic precautions, parents, students and school officials can prepare on their own.

Additionally, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most effective ways to prevent the spread of flu and colds is as follows: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick or if you are sick
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Sneezing or coughing should always be covered, preferably into your elbow to keep germs off your hands
  • If you must go out in public while you or your child is sick, the sick person should wear a mask

As the symptoms of coronavirus are similar to the common cold and flu, individuals are strongly recommended to consult their medical providers as soon as possible and stay home from school, until well.

With caution and reasonableness, we can continue working together to address the current public health issues for the health and well-being of all.

For more information, browse the California Department of Public Health, or the American College Health Association’s recommendations for university student health systems, for how college students can take precautions.