The coronavirus isn’t necessarily lurking in the hallways, but it’s on the minds of school administrators, teachers, parents and students throughout Eastern Washington.
By Monday, the crisis moved to the home pages of every school district in the region. Mostly that meant a repeat of the information distributed last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Districts also posted reassuring messages that they are in contact with the Spokane Regional Health District, which has final say in determining what steps schools must take in the face of an exposure.
Statewide, 48 schools were closed Monday. Five of those were in the Colville School District, which announced the shutdown after a person showing flu-like symptoms was tested for COVID-19.
Dozens of schools did the same in the Puget Sound area, with several citing the decisions being taken “with an abundance of caution.”
Preparedness was the watchword in most of Eastern Washington. The region’s largest district, Spokane Public Schools, held another high-level meeting Monday in which representatives from every department were briefed on contingencies by health services director Becky Doughty.
“We are still collaborating for us to get all of our information,” said district spokesperson Ally Barrera, who added the district will continue to use Blackboard Instant Messenger to send alerts and other communications to students’ families.
The district also will use digital flier flyer distributor PeachJar and social media.
“We are currently in the process of distributing more relevant information that we will post on the web,” Barrera.
At the Mead School District, the message on coronavirus brought up the issue of “social distancing” – that is the possibility of “canceling public gatherings, closing businesses, schools or childcare programs, etc.”
The message added: “The district is preparing for these possibilities,” but emphasized that any decisions would go through the health district and potentially the Washington State Department of Health.
That message has already applied to interscholastic sports. As fans prepare for state basketball tournaments, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association is encouraging fans to spread out in the stands.
So far, the biggest message – wash your hands – is one that schools have pushed for decades during the cold and flu season.
“That’s always been big for us,” Barrera said.
District leaders are attempting to walk the line between panic and inaction.
“I know this is a scary time, but I encourage everyone to stay calm, practice proper hygiene etiquette, and perform routine environmental cleaning,” East Valley Superintendent Kelly Shea wrote Monday.
“As things emerge, I will stay in contact with you and keep you informed. Hopefully, our preparations for the worst will be for not and we will all get through this with no harm to anyone,” Shea said.
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