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Schools and Coronavirus: What You Need to Know


The recent outbreak and spread of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has prompted a great deal of media attention and questions and concerns on the impact it will have on schools. Below you will find some general guidance on COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NEA is committed to ensuring the health and safety of its members and the students they serve and will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they become available.

What is Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China. The virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold.

Patients with COVID-19 have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Severe complications have included pneumonia in both lungs. There is currently no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19 nor is there a vaccine to prevent it.

What should schools be doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses?

Review and continue to implement comprehensive cleaning and infection control plans (ICP). ICPs present a clear protocol for routine cleaning, sanitizing, and targeted disinfecting, including steps to take in the event of an infectious disease outbreak. Custodial and maintenance staff should receive ongoing training on ICP protocols, products, and procedures; usage of personal protective equipment; and hazard communications. ICPs should include:

  • Best practices and procedures that protect the health of product users and other building occupants. This includes the use of products that do not contain ingredients that are known to contribute to asthma, respiratory irritation, or other health conditions and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectants or sanitizers.
  • Procedures for areas considered high-risk (e.g., bathrooms, athletic areas, cafeteria/kitchen, health room/nurse’s office) and high-touch points (e.g., door handles, hand railings, lockers, shared desks and keyboards) that may require sanitizing and targeted disinfecting in addition to routine cleaning.
  • Follow CDC's recommended steps to properly and safely plan, prepare, and respond to COVID-19, here: CDC Interim Guidance for Childcare Programs and K-12 Schools

Ensure that school nurses and other health professionals are equipped with the appropriate personal protective equipment, training, and protocols for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Encourage staff and students to stay home and see a healthcare provider if sick. Staff medical leave should not result in disciplinary action. Schools should also work with the school nurse or designee to develop a plan to identify and isolate students and staff who arrive at school sick.

Remind staff and students about good hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and other important health and safety practices. Students and staff should:

  • Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. Note: Schools should provide the time and supplies for students and staff to wash their hands when needed.
  • Cover their cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.

Work with state and local health and emergency response agencies to develop a joint public health preparedness and response plan in the event of an outbreak.

What can I do to protect myself and other family members?

According to the CDC, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.

CDC also recommends following these simple everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses overall.

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Practice respiratory etiquette. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask. 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 facemasks 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).

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RELATED LINKS

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
CDC is responding to the novel coronavirus outbreak. This is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation and CDC will provide updated information as it becomes available, in addition to updated guidance.

NEA’s School Crisis Guide
NEA’s School Crisis Guide helps schools prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from crises. It presents resources, tools, recommendations, and evidence-based practices for incorporating best practices in school health into school crisis plans.