Local school systems are preparing for the worst but hoping for the best when it comes to COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of the respiratory virus in Franklin County or Kentucky, but the virus has killed 11 people and sickened more than 140 in the United States.
Franklin County Schools Superintendent Mark Kopp and Frankfort Independent Schools Superintendent Houston Barber said their school systems are staying vigilant when it comes to preventing an outbreak.
Both Kopp and Barber said Wednesday that they are in close contact with Franklin County Health Department Director Judy Mattingly, the Kentucky Department of Education and other state officials on the status of the virus in Franklin County and in Kentucky.
Barber said FIS is developing a plan that is similar to the school system’s flu outbreak plan that educates students, staff and parents on the dangers of the virus and how to prevent getting sick. Another part of the plan includes extra cleaning of the schools and using methods proven to kill the virus.
“If we had a case of coronavirus, we’d alert everyone and follow flu protocol,” Barber said.
Franklin County’s plan is similar, if not identical, to Frankfort Independent’s.
Kopp said Franklin County’s maintenance staff is putting a special disinfectant spray to work in classrooms and on doorknobs and buses.
Kopp posted a message about the virus on the FCS social media pages and website advising FCS students, faculty, staff and parents on the latest COVID-19 news and how to keep from getting sick.
“To echo KDE Commissioner Kevin Brown's words from a few days ago, we know there is anxiety among our staff, students, and families regarding the potential for an outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19),” Kopp wrote. “We are monitoring the situation very closely, along with our state and local leaders, and are prepared to take any and all necessary precautions to prevent its spread.”
Both school systems are referencing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) when it comes to illness prevention. Frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, coughing and sneezing into a tissue or your elbow, not your hand, and staying home from work or school if you feel sick should be practiced to prevent not only the COVID-19 but the flu, the common cold and other viruses.
The CDC also advises that people should avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and avoiding contact with people who are sick.
Although the flu shot is not designed to protect against COVID-19, getting the flu shot is important because having the flu weakens your immune system and makes you vulnerable to other viruses such as COVID-19, according to the CDC.
When it comes to canceling school, both Kopp and Barber said that is an option if needed.
Kopp said FCS has nine nontraditional instruction days to work with and Barber said FIS has several flexible school days.
If school were to close for COVID-19, those days missed may have to be added onto the end of the school year, Kopp said.
However, if Gov. Andy Beshear were to declare a state of emergency due to a COVID-19 outbreak, that would give the school systems more flexibility and there is a possibility schools may not have to make up for the missed days, Barber said.
The first report of COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31, 2019.
Symptoms of the virus include fever, tiredness, dry cough, nasal congestion and runny nose, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
About 1 in 6 people who contract COVID-19 become seriously ill and develop breathing problems. As of Wednesday afternoon, WHO declared COVID-19 deadlier than the flu. The risk of death from the virus is greater with the elderly and those with an already weakened immune system among other preexisting conditions.
Since there are no vaccines for COVID-19, CDC said every community needs to prepare for an outbreak, because it isn’t a matter of “if” but “when” an outbreak will occur.
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 94,000 people had been diagnosed with COVID-19 worldwide.