As the threat of coronavirus grows in the United States, people are doing everything they can to avoid exposure and limit the spread of the virus. One high-risk place is schools, so parents are right to wonder how teachers are handling coronavirus as a topic of discussion. Are kids getting the appropriate information? The good news is that there are protocols; the bad news is that schools only have so much control.
The virus, which is now spreading across the globe, started in China. Laura Bradley, a U.S. citizen teaching English in Hong Kong, tells Romper she and her colleagues "haven't had the chance" to discuss the topic with students because "kids started Chinese New Year break around Jan. 22 and still haven't [returned]." She says the "Hong Kong government pushed" the students return date several times since the break and it will be "April 20 at the earliest" that they will return so they are "trying to do e-learning as much as [they] can."
Teachers in the U.S. have a bit of an advantage, because they have the opportunity to discuss the situation with students before any potential shutdowns. Nicole Johnson, a teacher in Raleigh, North Carolina, says she and her colleagues have been given guidance from their human resources department on how to approach the topic, which is to not induce fear and encourage precautions like hand washing. The Wake County (North Carolina) Superintendent recently sent a memo to staff, parents, and caregivers assuring them that they are monitoring the situation, reminding them that there are no confirmed cases in the state, and directing them to the CDC website which has tips on prevention practices. Since it isn't an imminent threat, some teachers are discussing it with students in a way that encourages their overall lesson plans. Math teacher Stuart Gordon says, "a colleague used it as an opportunity to teach about exponential functions and logarithms."
Unfortunately, not every state is in prevention mode; some are in situations where they are actively managing the spread of the virus. In Washington state, the Renton school district is consistently updating their website with information about possible cases of students (or student families) carrying the virus. In fact, one of their high schools was forced to close to decontaminate the building after a family reported potentially being exposed to coronavirus. The district, including teachers, are consistently reminding families to keep students home if they show any signs of the virus and to regularly practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus.
For schools where the virus is not actively spreading, like in North Carolina, the CDC recommends putting an "emergency operation plan" in place which includes "strategies to reduce the spread of a wide variety of infectious diseases" and "common sense preventative actions" like good hygiene and thoroughly decontaminating surfaces. Schools that are actively managing confirmed cases of coronavirus have different guidelines, which include contacting and working closely with local/state health officials, closing schools/childcare centers as needed, temporarily canceling afterschool events, discouraging social activities among students, and ensuring the continuation of education through e-learning as well as medical, meal, and social services that students regularly rely on.
The primary goal of teachers and school staff is to keep kids safe, whether that be through hand-washing or by helping them manage any fears or anxieties they may have over coronavirus.
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 of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.