Wilton Schools on COVID-19: Preparing, Sharing Info and Not Overreacting

On Thursday afternoon (Feb. 27), Wilton Schools‘ superintendent, Dr. Kevin Smith, emailed the school community, explaining the district’s response to the latest news about COVID-19/coronavirus. He wrote after the CDC recommended that communities and schools prepare for potential widespread disruptions resulting from the spread of the virus.

In a straightforward, factual way, Smith’s letter provided information about the virus and preventative care measures that people can make, as well as steps the school is taking to disinfect surfaces and remain in contact with the state and local health departments. He also recommends ways to talk to children about the spread of the virus.

Smith addresses what the district will do if there is a local outbreak. “Action plans are being developed should we need to respond to a local outbreak of COVID-19. These include academic continuity plans should some portion or the entire district need to shut down for an extended period of time.”

Perhaps one of the most important takeaways in Smith’s letter came at the beginning, where he writes, “First and foremost, it is critically important that we all remain calm and continue to keep up with the information that is being provided by the CDC as well as state and local health departments.”

GOOD Morning Wilton is sharing Smith’s letter so that the larger Wilton community beyond the schools can not only understand how the district is approaching the situation but also have facts from the scientists at the CDC with links and information available on the CDC website. 

Superintendent’s letter:

Dear Parents, Guardians, Caregivers, and Colleagues:

Tuesday’s news that the CDC recommended schools and communities prepare for potential widespread disruptions as a result of the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, amplified concerns across the country.  This memo is intended to share information about the virus, provide recommendations for self-care, offer tips and strategies for speaking to children about infectious disease outbreaks, and inform you that we are developing plans to promote academic continuity should the virus cause a serious disruption to our school operations.  Information about the virus is taken directly from the CDC website. Links to specific pages are included for those who would like more details. This memo contains a great deal of information and has been organized to provide key points at the top and then detailed information arranged in a frequently asked questions format. Thank you in advance for taking the time to read it in its entirety.

First and foremost, it is critically important that we all remain calm and continue to keep up with the information that is being provided by the CDC as well as state and local health departments. As of the writing of this memo, according to the CDC and Connecticut State Health Department there are 14 confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease in the U.S., but none in Connecticut.

Summary of Key Points to Consider:

  • Practices to mitigate or prevent the spread of the flu should be adopted by every family and staff member. For example, stay home when sick and routinely wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Our nursing staff is in regular contact with our medical advisor and town health department. All are carefully monitoring information from the CDC.
  • Our nursing staff has received additional training from the town health department in response to the COVID-19 threat.
  • We follow a more aggressive disinfecting routine during winter months. We have ordered a hard surface disinfectant, QT3, which has demonstrated effectiveness against viruses similar to 2019 novel coronavirus.
  • Some children may have stress and anxiety reactions as a result of the news reports and conversations about COVID-19. Readers can find links below to age-appropriate information for responding to children’s questions and concerns. In general, the best ways to support children are to ensure that they feel connected, cared about and loved. In conversations with children it is important to pay attention to what they are saying and be a good listener and allow them to ask questions. Other ways to support children include, maintaining routines, encouraging positive activities, and modeling self-care routines. For those who express acute stress or anxiety, or for parents who have more specific questions, our mental health staff stands at the ready. Feel free to reach out to anyone of them directly or [email] Kim Zemo, our Safe School Climate Coordinator.
  • Action plans are being developed should we need to respond to a local outbreak of COVID-19. These include academic continuity plans should some portion or the entire district need to shut down for an extended period of time. More information will follow.

What is the Coronavirus Disease 2019? 

The information below is taken directly from the CDC website:

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and now with this new virus (named SARS-CoV-2).

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is a betacoronavirus, like MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV.  All three of these viruses have their origins in bats. The sequences from U.S. patients are similar to the one that China initially posted, suggesting a likely single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal reservoir.

Early on, many of the patients in the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. Later, a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread. Person-to-person spread has been reported outside China, including in the United States and other locations. Chinese officials report that sustained person-to-person spread in the community is occurring in China. In addition, other destinations have apparent community spread, meaning some people have been infected who are not sure how or where they became infected. Learn what is known about the spread of newly emerged coronaviruses.

How many cases are presently in the United States?

The information below is taken directly from the CDC website:

Currently there are 14 confirmed cases in the U.S. 12 are travel related, 2 are a result of person-to-person spread.

How does the virus spread?

The information below is taken directly from the CDC website:

Current understanding about how the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) spreads is largely based on what is known about similar coronaviruses.

  • Person-to-person spread:  The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.
    • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)
    • Via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
    • These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
  • Spread from contact with infected surfaces or objects:  It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

When does spread happen?

  • People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest).
  • Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

How efficiently does the virus spread?

How easily a virus spreads from person-to-person can vary. Some viruses are highly contagious (like measles), while other viruses are less so. Another factor is whether the spread continues over multiple generations of people (if spread is sustained). The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in Hubei province and other parts of China. In the United States, spread from person-to-person has occurred only among a few close contacts and has not spread any further to date.

What are the symptoms?

The information below is taken directly from the CDC website:

For confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

The CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure. This is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses.

How can I protect myself?

The information below is taken directly from the CDC website:

There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a face mask.
    • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to  others. The use of face masks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

How do I speak to my child about the coronavirus?

Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks

News reports and other conversations about the COVID-19 may evoke feelings of fear, worry, or anxiety in some children. The link above will open a document that shares specific, age appropriate strategies for speaking with and supporting children. In general, the best ways to support children are to ensure that they feel connected, cared about and loved. In conversations with children it is important to pay attention to what they are saying and be a good listener and allow them to ask questions. Other ways to support children include, maintaining routines, encouraging positive activities, and modeling self-care routines. If a child is expressing difficulty in getting past his/her responses consider reaching out to a mental health provider for additional support. Our school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists are available to provide support. If you need assistance in making a connection, you can email our Safe School Climate Coordinator, Kim Zemo.

What is the district’s approach to cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing the school facilities?

District staff have been in contact with our cleaning suppliers to ensure we are following their recommendations to address the coronavirus.  We have ordered a hard surface disinfectant, QT3, which has demonstrated effectiveness against viruses similar to 2019 novel coronavirus. Head custodians at each building have been advised to add this product to their nightly cleaning protocol. In situations where we face the potential for widespread illness, we implement additional deep cleaning measures as necessary.

What are the district’s plans to promote educational continuity if there is a major disruption and schools have to be closed?

Our district reinforces the importance of taking universal precautions and implementing appropriate cleaning protocols as described above. We follow these procedures both proactively to prevent widespread illness and responsively to combat potential threats. We are planning for the best ways to maintain continuity for students in the event that the coronavirus causes a serious disruption to our schools. Currently, we are exploring a variety of options to mitigate disruptions to teaching and learning in the event of a health-related emergency. Our plan will be largely dependent on the nature and extent of the disruption. As the weeks and months ahead unfold, we will communicate any changes to the normal routine to you via School Messenger.

We will continue to provide updates as we learn new information. Please know that there are many in our school system and across our town who are actively working to ensure the ongoing health and safety of the residents of our community. Feel free to reach out with any further questions or clarifications.

Sincerely,

Kevin J. Smith Ph.D
Superintendent of Schools