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West Hartford Public Schools Monitoring Coronavirus, Making Decision about Foreign Travel

CDC image of coronavirus, courtesy of Town of West Hartford

West Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Tom Moore sent a letter to the school community Thursday and the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District has suggestions for the community on how to guard against the coronavirus and what to do if an outbreak occurs.

By Ronni Newton

As the coronavirus continues to spread in China and outbreaks arise in other countries, triggering a steep drop in the stock market amid the fear of a pandemic, the Town of West Hartford and West Hartford Public Schools issued several notifications to the community Thursday.

Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said that while there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, in West Hartford or even in Connecticut, he and the West Hartford Public Schools leadership team are continuing to monitor the spread of the virus, and planning for a variety of contingencies – including the possibility of canceling planned overseas trips for students over spring break.

In a letter sent out to all West Hartford Public Schools families, translated into their home languages, Moore said he has been in touch with town leadership, the West Hartford Bloomfield Public Health District, the town’s legislative delegation, and officials at the state Department of Education.

“Today, I met with all of our principals and updated them on our current situation and future planning,” Moore’s letter states. “Right now, we are advising all teachers and our families to continue operating as we do during any flu season. If you are sick, please stay home; maybe instead of shaking hands we can just wave ‘hi’ to each other; and please WASH YOUR HANDS FREQUENTLY.”

Careful and frequent hand washing is the best way to remain healthy in the face of all germs, Moore said in his letter. Custodians in all school buildings are also deep cleaning and wiping down all surfaces every night to stop the spread of flu. The regular flu season has been fairly typical, he said, and recently the absence rate has been on the decline.

“With the risk of a pandemic, we know we must do more,” Moore said in his letter.

The West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District is participating in daily briefings with the Center for Disease Control and Connecticut Department of Public Health, and keeping the town’s emergency management personnel advised. Up-to-date information can be found on the town’s website. The Connecticut Department of Public Health also has a comprehensive set of resources about the coronavirus on its website.

In a news release issued Thursday, the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District said that coronavirus has been declared as a public health emergency by both the World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control, and both organizations have issued travel advisories and alerts. “The CDC expects that the United States will continue to see cases and does anticipate more community spread in the U.S. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infection,” the release states.

The Health District noted that the virus is thought to be spreading from person-to-person via respiratory droplets produced through sneezing and coughing. While detailed information about exactly how coronavirus spreads is still limited, the following message about using everyday preventative actions is being stressed:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • 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.

The Health District is also recommending that businesses update their continuity or response plans to incorporate the current coronavirus situation. “Review with your employees what your procedures or protocols will be if a large percentage of staff are unable to work due to illness,” the Health District said.

Anyone anticipating travel outside the U.S. should consult the CDC and State Department websites for the most up-to-date travel advisories and alerts regarding coronavirus.

“As an educator, I believe deeply in the need for research and facts, and I bristle at those who choose to spread rumors, or things that they have ‘heard.” While now is the time for preparation, it is not the time for panic,” Moore said in his letter.

While the two overseas trips planned for high school students during April break have not been canceled at this point, Moore said a decision will be made soon and the administration is in negotiation with tour operators to try to protect families’ investments. More information from the tour companies will be shared with those students and their families next week, he said.

Moore also said that additional cleaning supplies have been ordered, so that custodians as well as other staff members will have what they need to wipe down surfaces throughout the day. Absences will continue to be tracked as usual, along with visits to the nurses, so spikes or dips in illnesses can be quickly identified.

“I will do my best to keep you informed in the coming days and weeks, and hopefully this will just be a long preparation drill that is not put into action,” Moore said in his letter to families. “Please monitor your children for any anxiety about the topic, and talk to them if they have questions. … Our first priority, as always, is the health and safety of our children, and our community.”

Moore also provided a link to suggestions for how to talk to children about the situation, which can be found here.

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