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UPDATE (3/9): Guidance documents were issued by California Department of Public Health for schools and colleges. California Department of Education also updated its information on coronavirus, including resources on topics including health practices, planning, school closure and funding, cleaning and how to address fear. CDC is also updating information on an ongoing basis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning this week about potential widespread impacts from coronavirus, which could disrupt daily life and impact schools, according to the federal health agency.

Calling the outbreak a high public health risk both domestically and globally, the CDC noted that while there are currently 14 confirmed cases in the U.S. the likelihood is high that the virus will continue to spread, like it has in China where there are 77,000 cases with nearly 2,500 deaths.

The CDC developed a list of recommendations for communities and businesses that included preparing for “possible increased numbers of employee absences due to illness in employees and their family members, dismissals of early childhood programs and K-12 schools due to high levels of absenteeism or illness.”

The new coronavirus is a respiratory illness marked by severe flu symptoms, including cough, shortness of breath and fever. According to the California Department of Public Health, there are 10 cases of coronavirus in the state as of Feb. 25, with approximately 200 people tested. There is no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission of the virus in the U.S., though one instance of person-to-person transmission was confirmed in San Benito County with a close household contact. 

Locations with confirmed coronavirus cases, according to CDC.

State officials said the matter is a serious public health concern and are actively working with CDC, local governments and health care providers across the state to protect public health, especially vulnerable populations.

“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country any more, but a question of when this will happen,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad.”

California Department of Education (CDE) and state public health officials have been keeping watch on the evolving situation, providing guidance for schools and districts earlier this month. In a Feb. 14 communication to all county and school district superintendents, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond addressed coronavirus concerns and provided resources for public schools.

“At this time, the health risk to the general public in California from novel coronavirus remains low, but schools can take common sense precautions to prevent the spread of all infectious diseases,” Thurmond said. “We want to educate people about the symptoms of coronavirus, but we also want to make sure that our schools are working to ensure that this health risk does not stigmatize or isolate certain populations of students based on discrimination.” (A San Fernando Valley boy was bullied this month and accused of having the virus, simply because he is Asian-American.)

Among the guidance provided from CDE to school districts:

  • Please note that there have been reports of students and others being stigmatized. We urge schools to ensure student and staff privacy to help prevent discrimination.
  • In the unusual event that a student or staff member is identified who: has symptoms of respiratory illness, such as fever and cough, AND traveled from mainland China in the prior 14 days, please take the following steps:
    • Separate the individual from others as much as possible and make arrangements for the individual to go home, and
    • Contact your local health department immediately.
  • Encourage all students, parents and staff to take everyday preventive actions:
    • Stay home when sick. Remain at home until a fever has been gone for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicines.
    • Seek immediate medical care if symptoms become more severe, such as a high fever or difficulty breathing.
  • Encourage handwashing by students and staff through education, scheduled time for handwashing and provision of adequate supplies.
  • Routinely clean frequently touched surfaces.
  • Separate sick students and staff from others until they can go home. When feasible, identify a “sick room” through which others do not regularly pass.
  • Encourage flu vaccine for those who haven’t had it this season to reduce illnesses and absences on campus (though it won’t prevent coronavirus illnesses).
  • Develop policies to respond to outbreaks and communicable diseases. Establish relationships with your local public health department for ongoing communication.
  • Update emergency plans to ensure they are in place before an outbreak occurs.

How is Coronavirus Transmitted?

Research suggests that coronavirus spreads through coughs, sneezes and contaminated surfaces. Without effective containment measures, scientists estimate every infected person could spread the virus to 1.5 to 3.5 people, according to KQED.

CTA will provide updates as the situation evolves. For information on your community, visit your local public health department’s website; for state updates, the California Department of Public Health; for national, visit CDC; and for global information, visit the World Health Organization.