As COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus, continues to spread and concerns surrounding it grow, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged schools to prepare for potential outbreaks in the United States.
"CDC is aggressively responding to the global outbreak of COVID-19 and preparing for the potential of community spread in the United States," the public health agency said this week. As of Wednesday, there are a total of 14 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States. The number of cases of coronavirus in the United States remains relatively low compared to countries like China, where it was first discovered in the area of Wuhan, and more recently Italy, which has seen a surge in reported cases.
Health officials, of course, would like to keep those numbers from climbing higher and have urged businesses and schools to be prepared with contingency plans in case of an outbreak. "Some community level interventions that may be most effective in reducing the spread of a new virus like school closures are also the most likely to be associated with unwanted consequences and further disruptions," the CDC's Dr. Nancy Messonnier said at a press briefing. "Secondary consequences of some of these measures might include missed work and loss of income. I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe, but these are things that people need to start thinking about now."
"You should ask your children’s school about their plans for school dismissals or school closures. If ask if there are plans for teleschool. I contacted my local school superintendent this morning with exactly those questions," Messonnier continued. "You should think about what you would do for childcare if schools or day cares close. If teleworking is an option for you. All of these questions can help you be better prepared for what might happen."
"We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad," the CDC told reporters Tuesday. "I continue to hope that in the end we'll look back and feel like we are over-prepared, but that is a better place to be in than being under-prepared. And just like the preparedness for a pandemic influenza provides such a strong foundation for this response, any preparedness we do as a country, at schools, businesses, within our families will always be helpful for whatever the next event is."
While potential school closures may sound extreme, Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association, told Education Week that schools are equipped to ensure children can be educated from home in an emergency. "If it’s serious enough to close schools, we have something today we didn’t have back then: We have the technology that does allow students to be able to stay home and do work online."
Experts continue to recommend hand hygiene as one of the best ways to prevent contracting COVID-19, a pneumonia-like illness that can cause fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends washing your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub as well as maintaining a one-meter distance from people who are coughing and sneezing.
Beyond those measures, the CDC is reminding the public to stay informed and be prepared. "During an outbreak with a new virus, there is a lot of uncertainty," Messonnier said. "Our guidance and advice are likely to be fluid subject to change as we learn more. We will continue to keep you updated."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all our Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.