(NOTE: This letter was sent to Kentucky school superintendents Feb. 28.)
I know there is much anxiety among our public school families – students, educators and staff members alike – about the potential for an outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in our schools. I want to follow up on Gov. Andy Beshear’s remarks today (Feb. 28) regarding Kentucky’s efforts to monitor the international situation concerning the coronavirus and to prevent its spread within local communities.
Our schools deal with outbreaks of illness on a regular basis, such as the flu outbreak that closed many districts this winter. While the coronavirus is new, the same procedures we use during flu outbreaks can be of use during this time.
Preparations at the district level should already be in place based on those procedures. Districts should have “flu plans” based on proper guidance from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), which is typically communicated to district health coordinators. Those coordinators should take this opportunity to revisit those plans. The sample flu plan distributed by KDE offers standard prevention protocol and responses to reports of illness.
I want to assure our districts that KDE stands ready to assist you with any actions you deem necessary to protect the health and safety of your students, staff and community. We urge our districts to work with their families and their local health departments to construct plans that keep our children and staff safe.
Gov. Beshear made it clear that no one in Kentucky has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and state health officials believe the risk to Kentuckians is very low. He said state government and local health departments are prepared to address the issue if a confirmed case of this coronavirus presents itself.
The governor stressed that while the risk is low, there are things we can do to take care of ourselves and each other. He said the same steps that should be taken to prevent the spread of the common cold and seasonal flu are applicable to COVID-19 and are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Wash your hands, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It is especially important to emphasize to students that they should use soap and should wash for at least 20 seconds.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, or cough or sneeze into your elbow – not your hand.
- Stay home if you don’t feel well. Don’t come to school or to work when you are sick.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Get a flu shot if you haven’t already had one this season.
Gov. Beshear also unveiled a webpage produced by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services that is designed to answer public questions and to support the medical community as new information becomes available.
A reminder: While decisions about attendance and about when or whether to cancel classes lie with our local districts, the Kentucky Department for Public Health can close schools when they determine that overall public health would be affected.
Here at KDE, we will continue to rely on guidance from the Department for Public Health and will pass along any pertinent information we receive from them to you and to parents and families.
For more information on COVID-19, see:
- A KDE webpage on the coronavirus that includes information on the virus and links to the sample flu plan and talking points for school nurses from the National Association of School Nurses.
- The Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ coronavirus webpage, which includes information from the CDC and will be updated as information becomes available.