Fine Print: School Guidance for Novel Coronavirus

John Mooney | January 30, 2020 | Education, Coronavirus in NJ
State departments of health and education move to address questions and reassure staff and students there is no immediate danger in New Jersey
Credit: CDC Public Health Image Library (PHIL) via Wikimedia
Novel coronavirus

What it is: The state Department of Health this week released guidance to New Jersey’s public schools for handling the questions — and fears — about the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China.

What it says: The three-page document, along with a cover sheet from the state Department of Education, provides factual information on the outbreak and recommendations for schools to follow to minimize risk.

A little context: The guidance is a typical communication from state agencies to schools about handling health or other concerns arising from larger state, national or worldwide events. Last week, for instance, the state Department of Education provided guidance to schools for taking in students coming from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of earthquakes on the island.

A little more context: There have been no confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in New Jersey and just five cases in the United States. “Although this virus is understandably a cause for concern, it is important for New Jersey residents to know that the risk to the general public remains low,” reads the cover letter from the state education department.

Commissioner’s words: As part of an announcement from Gov. Phil Murphy about New Jersey’s preparedness, state Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet commented yesterday on schools’ roles in combating public health concerns. “Schools play a vital role in this effort by providing crucial guidance to students and families,” he said. “New Jersey schools have faced many outbreaks and viruses over the years, and each time we work with experts throughout the state to arm our school leaders with the information they need to keep our children safe.”

Obvious steps: The guidance says that schools should be aware of any student who traveled in the past 14 days to China’s Wuhan Province, the outbreak’s epicenter. If those students show any symptoms of coughing or fever, they should immediately seek medical attention. However, the guidance also says a student who simply traveled to China and is healthy should not be singled out. “If a traveler who returns from China is not ill, they may continue to attend school,” it reads.

Other steps: The memo reiterates the importance of hygiene and asks that schools “increase education of respiratory hygiene.” Recommendations include that staff and students cough into a sleeve or tissue and not their hands, wash hands frequently, and frequently wash commonly used surfaces and objects.

Extra precautions: Schools are already required under state law to immediately notify health officials in their communities of any case of possible contagion. In the memo, the state also reminds schools that they can exclude a student under certain circumstances if he or she is contagious in any way.

No need to overreact: The memo also says schools do not need to take extraordinary measures cleaning their buildings. “Special sanitizing processes beyond routine cleaning, including closing schools to clean every surface in the building, are not necessary or recommended to slow the spread of respiratory illness. Schools should follow standard procedures for routine cleaning and disinfecting with an EPA-registered product.”

Plenty more where that came from: Both memos lay out extensive resources available concerning the virus outbreak and steps to take to lessen possible risk. That includes a 24-hour hot-line: 1-800-222-1222.

Updated on Feb. 2, 2020: New advice from NJ Department of Health on “Managing Students (travelers) Returning from China.”