U.S. School Systems Prepare For Potential COVID-19 Outbreak

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Personal hygiene will be part of the new coronavirus preparation plan at San Jose Unified School District. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
Personal hygiene will be part of the new coronavirus preparation plan at San Jose Unified School District. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising schools and businesses to prepare for a potential outbreak of COVID-19 after the first case of community spread was reported in Northern California.

The California Department of Health reported on Wednesday the infected individual is a resident of Solano County in the San Francisco bay area who had no known exposure to the virus through travel or close contact with a known infected individual.

Melinda Landau, manager of health and family support programs at San José Unified School District, says the H1N1 or “swine flu” outbreak in 2009 prepared them to potentially face COVID-19. San José is just a few hours from the University of California, Davis, where the patient is being treated.

“We know how to handle this,” Landau says, “And I’m confident that we’re in a position that we can monitor and help mitigate the situation.”

A big part of the school district’s preparation will start at home. Landau says the district is encouraging parents to talk to their children about covering coughs, using tissues, and properly washing their hands.

Interview Highlights

On how schools clean during an outbreak

“Normally our classrooms get cleaned every day. That's standard when we have an outbreak or a spike in symptoms in a classroom. We may send out a crew who does disinfecting rather than just cleaning. So they come with the appropriate cleaner. They let it sit. They wipe it down, so the classroom is disinfected.”

On similarities between H1N1 and COVID-19

“[During] H1N1, we did have a local school not in our district, closed. It was closed for a couple of days. But they decided that that was not the most effective way to slow the spread of H1N1. We know that the spread of H1N1 was better mitigated by the efforts that we are doing right now during H1N1, they quickly developed a vaccination. And in our district, we vaccinated. We did over 16,000 doses. We do have the nurses available to us. And should a vaccination [for COVID-19] become available, we'll be working with our public health department to see if we can make that happen.”

On parents’ concerns

“The parents are very concerned. We're getting messages. They're hearing stories that are maybe sensationalized. I would advise parents to look at the reliable sources of information. We want parents to know that we are on this. Our district has gone through a continuous improvement cycle on handling just these situations since H1N1. We know how to monitor. We know how to help stop the spread of viruses and whatever happens, we are prepared to support them and their students.”

Katherine Simpson produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Simpson also adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on February 28, 2020.


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Peter O'Dowd Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.



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