How suburban schools are preparing for the coronavirus
Cleaning classrooms and monitoring student attendance and sickness are among the precautions suburban school districts and preschools are taking to prepare for a potential coronavirus outbreak.
Across the suburbs, schools officials are especially emphasizing good hygiene, such as hand-washing, as they brace for the virus' spread to the region. Most districts don't have preparedness plans, but are using measures in place for flu and other communicable disease outbreaks.
Officials are looking to county and state health departments for guidance on how to protect students, families and employees.
At Round Lake Area Unit District 116, officials are tracking daily attendance across 10 schools and monitoring how many students call in sick with fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, diarrhea and vomiting, encouraging parents to keep them home.
The district followed this protocol during the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic, said Heather Bennett, district spokeswoman.
"This is not something that we typically do," Bennett said, adding officials are tracking use of medical supplies and are more focused on influenza and other common illnesses around this time of year.
The global coronavirus outbreak has infected 82,294 people in 47 countries and claimed the lives of 2,804 people -- 2,747 in China and 57 elsewhere as of Thursday, according to the World Health Organization.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reports two confirmed and two suspected cases of coronavirus, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns of the potential for the virus spreading in communities nationwide.
Suburban school districts say they are working closely with health departments and urge following their directives to prevent the spread of illness.
That includes washing hands often with soap and water, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands and close contact with sick people, staying home when sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.
"We have plans in place in the event of a pandemic, but that is not unique to this virus," Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said. "We are reviewing and seeing what may need to be adjusted as more information comes in from CDC and health departments."
Those precautions include tracking illness trends, proactively cleaning classrooms and schools, and sending sick students home to reduce exposure to others.
School superintendents have been trying to allay parents' fears through email messages and communications posted on district websites. "We continue to be proactive in our cleaning practices," wrote Jeff Schuler, superintendent of Wheaton-Warrenville District 200. "Over this long weekend, we are deep cleaning the surfaces at each of our schools. Staff members are reminded to promote universal precautions among students, including frequent hand washing. In addition, we will monitor all travel for any school activities that may be affected."
Officials at Palatine Township District 15 say they are awaiting health departments' guidance on coronavirus response. In the meantime, they are taking the same precautions as for cold and flu season, spokeswoman Morgan Delack said.
"If we have multiple cases of influenza in the building, we would definitely clean doorknobs and tabletops," Delack said. "We don't proactively bleach things unless a need arises."
Aurora-based Two Rivers Head Start Agency is making face masks available at its 10 sites, including preschools in Aurora, Carpentersville and Elgin, for students, employees and visitors exhibiting signs of illness. The agency serves 893 children from 6 weeks up to 5 years old.
"We have an emergency preparedness plan," Executive Director Diane Lacey said. "As people enter, we are having them wash their hands. We do a wellness check when the children come in. If staff are sick, we send them home."
Parents may not be as alarmed about the virus, as school districts report few inquiries. Several U-46 parents downplayed concerns in comments made Thursday on a Facebook group.
"Not concerned about the illness itself at all. Concerned about the panic mongering and over reaction of paranoid people," wrote Todd Warren.
Christina Liptak-Riess echoed precautions district officials advise: "Cover your mouth. Wash your hands. Stay home if you don't feel well."