Steamboat area schools prepare for coronavirus in face of minute-by-minute uncertainties
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Major announcements over the past two days have sent school districts into high gear as they plan and prepare for a very uncertain next several weeks — if not the remainder of the school year.
During a press conference on Wednesday, March 11, Colorado Gov.Jared Polis issued statewide closure criteria that requires any school with a single confirmed case of COVID-19 in a staff member or student to close for a minimum of 72 hours for cleaning and social distancing.
Two cases would trigger a public health investigation, and three confirmed cases within a 30-day period would require a school to close for a minimum of 14 days. If three schools have confirmed cases within a 30-day period, all schools within the district would be required to close for a minimum of 14 days for cleaning, testing and public health investigation.
The governor’s guidelines also direct schools to monitor their attendance and sick leave policies and require students and staff to stay home when sick.
“Discourage the use of perfect attendance awards and incentives,” the directives states, “and determine what level of absenteeism will disrupt continuity of teaching and learning.”
The governor also advises that schools cancel or postpone trips that could expose students or staff to COVID-19.
However, the document also states, “public health is not currently recommending that schools or child care proactively close unless they have a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a staff or student.”
As of 6 p.m. Thursday, March 12, no students, staff or residents of Routt have tested positive for COVID-19. However, it isn’t far away. On Thursday, the state confirmed six new cases in Eagle County.
And an interesting and still mysterious facet of the novel coronavirus is that it doesn’t seem to be affecting kids. According to the World Health Organization, only 2.4% of reported cases in China were children and only 0.2% of reported cases were children who got critically ill. China has reported no case of a young child dying of COVID-19.
But children can be carriers and can spread it to the population on the other end of the age spectrum, who face a much more serious health risk. According to the World Health Organization, the fatality rate in China for those 80 and older is an estimated 21.9%.
Colorado school districts were also hit hard Thursday by the news that the Colorado High School Activities Association has suspended all spring sports and activities until Monday, April 6, due to the concern of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association announced it was canceling all sanctioned and scheduled events starting Monday.
And across the country and state, meetings and events were canceled or postponed in dramatic numbers.
Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio and Kentucky announced Thursday they were closing all schools for two weeks.
The Gunnison Watershed School District was the first Colorado school district to cancel classes districtwide.
As these cancellations and school closures spread along with the virus, schools are preparing for “distance learning.”
Because things are changing so quickly, Steamboat Springs Superintendent Brad Meeks described a plan-making process that is both short term and long term, small scale and large scale. Right now, it’s putting forth a lot of “what if” scenarios, he said, and then awaiting direction from state agencies or the Routt County Public Health Department.
Meeks said it wasn’t a matter of hour-by-hour developments but minute by minute.
Pascal Ginesta, the Steamboat Springs School District’s director of maintenance, operations and transportation, also oversees emergency operations, and he has been participating in 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. twice-daily meetings with Routt County Emergency Management.
A focus of a meeting of Steamboat school administrators Thursday was on what distance learning would look like and how to ensure every student had access to a computer and internet connection. They also discussed providing lunch for students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.
At this time, Meeks said the district’s goal is to be prepared for anything.
“We are not going to stop this thing,” he said. “We hope it slows down. And if do have to close school for a period of time, we want to be able to continue students’ education.”
This week, Meeks said the district wasn’t experiencing above-average absenteeism.
In South Routt, Superintendent Rim Watson said the district has been dealing with a large number of cases of influenza B on top of everything else. But as with the other districts, Watson said he has been following guidelines issued by federal, state and local health agencies and communicating those recommendations to his students and staff.
“This is going to be in our future,” Watson said of the spread of COVID-19. “We need to do our part.”
Before Polis’ directive, Watson said the district had been planning for every scenario.
“So, we are starting to think through all those things now and how we will make decisions,” Watson said.
District officials are planning for closure.
“And we’re trying to get ready for any path,” Watson said.
A jazz concert has been postponed, and the district is evaluating other planned events. Spring break is scheduled for the last week of March.
“Two or three weeks ago, I was at a different place,” Watson said. “I had to make sure it (COVID-19) doesn’t touch the kids.” But as more information out, “it does not appear to be as much of a threat to pre-K to 12th-grade students. But they are going home every night, and we don’t want to be a cause of exacerbating the problem.”
In Hayden, Superintendent Christy Sinner said the district has been ramping up its cleaning and disinfecting efforts over the last few weeks, and school nurses are closely monitoring any students exhibiting symptoms.
So far, Hayden School District hasn’t experienced more absentees than normal, and it hasn’t seen the influenza cases like in South Routt.
Hayden school officials have been sending letters to parents to keep them up to date and have begun discussions about how to continue classes in the event the school closes. Sinner said this prospect would be extremely challenging, because there are many students without internet at home.
“We are aware, we are monitoring, and we aren’t ignoring it,” she said. “There isn’t a state of panic in the school or the community.”
- Cough or sneeze into their sleeved arm or cover their nose and mouth with a tissue. Throw away the tissue after they use it and wash hands
- Avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouth
- Wash their hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, especially after they cough or sneeze; an alcohol-based hand rub can be used if soap and water are not nearby
- Avoid sharing cups and eating utensils with others
- Increase deep cleaning to at least 2 times per week and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces like doorknobs, tables, drinking fountains and handrails. For instructions regarding disinfecting see here. For an additional list of recommended products visit: americanchemistry.com/Novel-Coronavirus-Fighting-Products-List.pdf
- Family style serving should be avoided if possible. It is recommended that the school and child care facility staff prepare and serve snacks and meals using gloves.
- If napping mats are used, children should be kept at least 6 feet apart if possible and mats should be cleaned after each use.
courtesy State of Colorado
Next week is spring break in Hayden, so the halls will be empty as the situation develops.
At Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs, Public Information Officer Debbie Crawford reported Thursday morning that all classes were continuing as scheduled. Students are currently on spring break, but she also noted they are planning and preparing for anything.
“The health and safety of Colorado Mountain College students and employees, and our community members, is of the utmost importance,” Crawford said.
By Thursday afternoon, things had changed dramatically. Crawford sent out the following announcement at 6:15 p.m. Thursday:
“For students only, spring break will be extended by one week, through March 20, 2020. Beginning March 23, all credit, English as a second language and GED/HSE classes will move to an online or Webex environment for a period of three weeks, or through April 12, 2020. In early April, the college will determine whether to return to a face-to-face environment beginning April 13, or continue in a remote environment through to the end of the semester.”
Campuses’ residences and dining halls will remain open to students and staff only, she said.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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