What California parents and students should know about COVID-19

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TIANJIN, CHINA - 2020/03/03: A little girl wears a face mask playing on a playground. Though the epidemic situation of coronavirus in China have shown a better control, people are still required to keep wearing mask and avoid gathering, considering the beginning of back-to-work in many cities, as well as the emerging outbreak overseas. (Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Source : EdSource

Q: What is the state reporting on the spread in California of the coronavirus known as COVID-19?

Statewide, more than 80 adults had tested positive for the virus as of Saturday. Elk Grove Unified closed all schools March 7-13 after a family was put on quarantine for the virus. Stanford University cancelled classes for the last two weeks of the winter term starting Monday after a faculty member tested positive. On Thursday, California ordered insurance companies to waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus testing – including co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance – for hospital stays, emergency department, urgent care and medical visits. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Wednesday, the same day the state saw its first death in Placer County. The victim had been a passenger on a cruise ship to Mexico and disembarked at the Port of San Francisco. The ship then continued to Hawaii and was supposed to return to San Francisco Wednesday night but was stopped at sea pending testing of passengers and crew who were showing possible symptoms of the disease.

QHave any school children in California been diagnosed with the coronavirus (known as COVID-19)?

A: So far, no California school children have been diagnosed with the virus.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “preliminary data suggest that older adults and persons with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems might be at greater risk for severe illness from this virus.” Gov. Gavin Newsom, at a press conference Wednesday, reiterated that point, seeking to allay parents’ fears by underscoring that healthy children were on the whole less vulnerable to COVID-19 than older adults. In China, some cases of children contracting the virus have been reported.

Elk Grove Unified Superintendent Christopher Hoffman announced Saturday that all schools in the district – which is the largest in Northern California – would close for the week of March 7-13 because a family was put on quarantine due to the virus. On Friday, the Murietta Valley Unified School District announced that it would close Marietta Valley High School on Monday, March 9 because an employee was ill and being tested for the virus. The school will remain closed until the testing is completed and 71 students who may have come in contact with the person who was sick have been instructed to self-quarantine. On Thursday, five Bay Area schools closed for deep cleaning: The Aspire Monarch Academy charter school in Oakland closed because a staff member was potentially exposed to coronavirus; Lowell High School in San Francisco Unified closed because a relative of a student was being treated for coronavirus; the private Presidio Hill School in San Francisco closed because an extended family member who visits the school was exposed to people who have tested positive for the virus; Black Pine Circle, a private school in West Berkeley closed because a family that recently traveled internationally could have been exposed to the virus; and Action Day Primary Plus, a private preschool in San Jose, closed its Moorpark location after learning a teacher tested positive for the virus. Earlier in the week, two private schools – the Healdsburg School in Sonoma County and Menlo School in San Mateo County – closed due to concerns about the virus. Healdsburg School has reopened, but Menlo School will remain closed through the weekend. On Friday, Feb. 28, two students in the Palo Alto Unified school district were sent home after the district got reports that one of their parents may have been exposed to the virus. But the students have not been diagnosed with the virus.

Q: As a parent, to what extent should I be concerned about the coronavirus at my child’s school?

A: Health risk from the coronavirus remains low at this time, according to the California Department of Public Health. However, the California Department of Education is urging districts to prepare for the possible spread of the virus by identifying plans and protocols for communicating with families and plan for educating students while at home if schools are closed. The decision to close a school would be made at the local level. The CDC has issued guidance for schools that includes precautions to take in communities where the virus has not been identified, as well as in communities where it has been confirmed.

Q: What are authorities telling school districts to communicate with the public? Do authorities recommend that I or my children take any precautions?

A: The California Department of Health recommends that schools and districts take “common sense precautions” that help prevent the spread of all diseases. These can also be practiced by children and their families. These include: keep children home if they are sick until a fever has been gone for at least 24 hours without the use of medicine; seek medical care immediately if symptoms, such as a high fever or difficulty breathing, become more severe; cover coughs with a sleeve or tissue; keep tissues and “no touch” trash cans close by; wash hands often and keep soap dispensers filled; clean frequently touched surfaces routinely; if desired, wear a face mask if you are coughing or sneezing. In addition, the CDC has released guidelines for creating a household plan of action related to the virus.

Q: What should I tell my child about the virus — if anything?

A: “Be honest and say there is a cold virus that is showing up in different countries,” said Yvonne Maldonado, director of Infection Control at Stanford Children’s Hospital. “It makes some people very sick, but most people — especially children — seem not to get very sick with it.” She added that so far, there are not very many cases of the virus in the U.S. “Right now,” she said, “it’s safe to carry out normal activities here.”

National Public Radio has created a comic to help parents talk to their children about the virus. And the independent national nonprofit The Child Mind Institute, which focuses on children’s mental health, has posted an article titled: “Talking to kids about the coronavirus: Kids worry more when they’re kept in the dark.”

Q: What if my school district has not communicated with me?

A: “You should ask your children’s schools about their plans for school dismissals or school closures,” Nancy Messonnier, a director at the Centers for Disease Control, said Tuesday. She also encouraged parents to “ask about plans for teleschool,” referring to online learning. Most schools are not able to offer online classes, however.

Q: Can I expect that all schools will be stocked with soap so students can wash their hands?

A: All public schools in California are required to keep their soap dispensers filled, according to the California Department of Education.

Q: Have any college students been exposed to the virus?

A: There have been no publicly announced cases of students testing positive for the virus.

On March 6, Stanford announced that a faculty member in the medical school had tested positive for the virus, and three students are in “self isolation,” and have been tested although they are not showing any symptoms. The university cancelled classes for the last two weeks of the winter term starting on Monday. Classes will move to online formats.

On March 6, UCLA announced that three students who had been tested for the virus and had been in “self-isolation” had negative results.

Last week, three UC Davis roommates in the Kearney residence hall were placed in isolation because of concerns they might have been exposed to the virus.  But the one student who was tested because the student showed symptoms of illness tested negative for the virus. The other two students who showed no symptoms of illness were released from isolation, according to a campus statement.

In the community college system, four students were asked to self-quarantine for two weeks after being exposed to a patient who was diagnosed with the virus last week. Two students — one from American River College and another who attends Cosumnes River College, both in Sacramento — had contact with the patient while working as medical professionals, according to the Los Rios Community College District website.  The district emphasizes there have been “zero confirmed cases of students or employees with the coronavirus.”

Two other students from Sacramento City College have also reported exposure to a person confirmed to have the virus while performing medical duties and have agreed to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The CDC has issued interim guidance for colleges and universities with details about how to plan for exposure to the virus in the community.

Q: Has the virus affected college programs or travel abroad?

A: Yes.

On Friday March 7, Stanford University announced, among a range of measures, that for the final two weeks of the winter quarter, beginning on March, 9, classes at Stanford would not meet in person, and that “to the extent feasible” all classes would be moved “to online formats.”   It also announced that one faculty member working in a university clinic had tested positive to the virus, and that two students

The University of Southern California announced that it will test its ability to offer courses online offering all classes remotely for three days next week (Wednesday, March 11 through Friday, March 13).  It emphasized that that “there are no cases of COVID-19 at USC.”

The University of California has suspended its overseas programs in Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Italy. Suspending a program means students who are there are returned home and additional students are not allowed to join the program. In all, about 350 students could be affected by all those suspensions, although those whose classes were scheduled for the spring quarter have not left the U.S. yet. For the ones already overseas, not all have returned home since some have decided to stay in Europe or Asia and travel.

On March 6, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ urged “all members of our community to take steps now to prepare for the possibility that in the near future we will need to shift to working, teaching, and learning remotely and virtually as much as possible.”

As for the CDC warning that universities should consider suspending all overseas programs, UC will monitor each location and decide case by case but is not considering suspending all, officials said.

The California State University has also suspended its systemwide programs in China, South Korea and as of Tuesday, Italy, according to spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp. He said he was not aware of any CSU students placed in quarantine.

Q: How should colleges handle possible cases of infected students or faculty?

A: The California Department of Public Health urges anyone who has traveled from mainland China in the prior 14 days and has symptoms of respiratory illness such as fever and cough to return home or be relocated to a private room. Officials should then contact the local health department. The directive urged schools to ensure the privacy of the affected students and faculty and prevent them from being discriminated against or stigmatized.

Q: Where is testing being done for the virus?

The number of labs available for novel coronavirus testing around California is up to 14, and the turnaround for test results was down to just four hours, Gov. Newsom said. The federal government, which had experienced difficulties making tests available to states, had also given the state more than 5,900 tests and access to more as needed, Newsom said.

Q: Is the virus affecting educational conferences?

Yes. The Asia-Pacific Association for International Education’s Conference and Exhibition in Vancouver, B.C. has been postponed; the American Physical Society has canceled its planned March meeting in Denver; and the Educause Learning Initiative meeting March 2-4 in Bellevue, Wash. was canceled.

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