There are several known coronaviruses that infect people and usually only cause mild illness, like the common cold. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is part of this family of viruses. It is being called a “novel” (new) coronavirus because it is a new coronavirus that was not known before this outbreak.
Preliminary data suggest that older adults and persons with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems might be at greater risk for severe illness from this virus. In fact, most confirmed cases of COVID-19 have occurred in adults.
What is the role of schools in responding to COVID-19?
It is important, especially as an educational institution, that our reaction to and preparation for COVID-19 be informed, logical, and proportionate to the risk. Schools, working together with local health departments, have an important role in slowing the spread of diseases to help ensure students have safe and healthy learning environments.
To prepare for possible community transmission of COVID-19, the most important thing for schools to do now is plan and prepare. As the global outbreak evolves, schools want to be ready if COVID-19 does appear in their communities.
Schools are not expected to screen students or staff to identify cases of COVID-19. The majority of respiratory illnesses are not COVID-19. If a community (or more specifically, a school) has cases of COVID-19, local health officials will help identify those individuals and follow up on next steps.
What is the role of parents and caregivers in responding to COVID-19?
It is essential that students stay home when they are sick. Frequently reported signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, muscle pain or fatigue, and shortness of breath at illness onset. Sore throat has also been reported in some patients in the early stages. Children who are getting ill may exhibit different behavior than usual, such as eating less or being irritable.
School districts in New York State are required to isolate and send home any person who presents flu-like symptoms (see FAQ below).
If you suspect your child is sick, it is essential that he/she/they not attend school or go anywhere else—such as childcare centers, the mall, or sporting events—where other people would be exposed.
Parents and caregivers should also teach their children these everyday measures that help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases:
Wash hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds (about as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice). Be sure to set a good example by doing this yourself.
Use hand sanitizer appropriately. Gels, rubs and hand wipes all work well, as long as they contain at least 60% alcohol. Hand wipes must be disposed of properly. Always read and follow label instructions when using hand sanitizer.
Cover coughs and sneezes with tissues or by coughing into the inside of the elbow. Be sure to set a good example by doing this yourself.
Are there any new procedures in place if an individual presents with flu-like symptoms?
As of the evening of March 9, 2020, the New York State Department of Health and New York State Education Department issued guidance that requires schools to separate staff and students who present flu-like symptoms at school. Students and staff who appear to have a flu-like illness when they come to school—or who become ill during the school day— should be isolated in a room separate from other people if possible, or kept a minimum of 6 feet away from others while wearing a surgical mask until they can be sent home in accordance with district procedures.
People may experience some or all of the following flu-like symptoms are:
fever or feeling feverish/chills
runny or stuffy nose
muscle or body aches
Coronavirus, Flu, Cold, or Allergies? All four illnesses can share similar symptoms, but there are signs that can tell you which one you may actually have. For example, the common cold rarely produces a fever, unlike the flu and the coronavirus. Conversely, sneezing is not a symptom of the flu and coronavirus like it is for the cold and allergies.
If you are a staff member or student who becomes ill during the day, go to the nurse, and the nurse will care for you in accordance with these new procedures. If you notice someone who is ill, communicate confidentially with the person and appropriate school personnel (nurse, administration) to support the person who is exhibiting symptoms. While any child or adult is waiting, all personnel should continue to respect the privacy of the individual and engage with them in a calm and respectful manner.
Remember, schools are not expected to screen students or staff to identify cases of COVID-19. If a patient who tests positive for COVID-19 is currently attending or working in a school, state and local health officials will help identify those individuals and will follow up with the school on next steps for those who may have had close or proximate contact with that person while they were able to spread COVID-19.
Based on guidance from local, state and federal health authorities, the FCSD recommends that the only people who should wear surgical masks are those who:
are currently displaying flu-like symptoms and cannot be isolated (and are waiting to go home); and
have, under the care of a medical provider, been advised to do so, given a pre-existing condition.
There are national concerns regarding surgical mask shortages for those who need them. Please do not wear a mask unless you are ill or have a pre-existing condition.
Surgical masks are used as a physical barrier to protect the user from hazards, such as splashes of large droplets of blood or body fluids.
Surgical masks also protect other people against infection from the person wearing the surgical mask. Such masks trap large particles of body fluids that may contain bacteria or viruses expelled by the wearer.
What is the Fulton City School District (FCSD) doing to prepare for COVID-19?
We are planning and preparing, as per guidance from federal, state, and local authorities. Specifically, the FCSD is:
reviewing, revising, and implementing our emergency plans;
staying in close communication with the NYS Department of Health and other educational institutions;
monitoring and planning for student and staff absences;
continuing our current procedures for students and staff who are sick at school (schools are not expected to screen students or staff to identify cases of COVID-19);
continuing our cleaning protocols, and reminding staff of these protocols;
encouraging students and staff to wash their hands and to utilize hand sanitizer when unable to wash their hands; and
working to communicate often and through the various channels available to the district.
The FCSD is also committed to fighting bias in the midst of this. Stigma hurts everyone by creating more fear or anger towards ordinary people, instead of the disease that is causing the problem. We can fight stigma and help prevent others from being hurt by providing social support and communicating the fact that being Chinese or Asian American does not increase the chance of getting or spreading COVID-19. Viruses cannot target people from specific populations, ethnicities, or racial backgrounds.
There are a number of resources available that address the what and how of fighting racism and xenophobia in response to COVID-19, including the following from Teaching Tolerance and ChangeLab:
What about large gatherings of students and staff during the school day?
Breakfast and lunch will continue as normal, with handwashing and/or hand sanitizer use strongly encouraged and monitored. Staff and PLC meetings will continue as normal; again, we encourage practicing good personal hygiene.
Nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) are actions, apart from getting vaccinated and/or taking medicine, that organizations can take to help slow the spread of illnesses.
A number of NPIs are part of our policies and regular operating procedures, such as contacting parents to pick up ill children and keeping them at home for a recommended time period, providing hand washing and respiratory etiquette education, and limiting large gatherings.
We have been working in collaboration with local health authorities and experts in the field, and are grateful for their guidance.
“Public health experts tell us that there are two phases to controlling a pandemic. The first is containment; you try to limit the geographic spread of the disease through steps like quarantining and contact tracing. For COVID-19 in the United States, we are beyond the point of containment. You then shift to the second phase: mitigation. Here, the goal is to slow the spread of the disease. This accomplishes several things. It buys time to put in place strategies to help the most vulnerable (e.g., meal deliveries that allow older adults to stay at home). It buys time for seasonal change impacts, as warm weather may reduce transmission of this virus. It buys time to develop medical interventions and possibly even vaccines. And, most importantly, it distributes the cases of illness over time, preventing health care systems from being overwhelmed. This is particularly crucial to saving lives.
The best way that we can mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is through social distancing. Simply put, you work to minimize the number of interactions that provide the opportunity for the disease to spread. So, to the extent possible, you limit or eliminate large groups of people coming together and you try to minimize the number of people congregating in close settings.” - Martha E. Pollack (President of Cornell University)
Are additional cleaning protocols being instituted in schools?
Governor Cuomo recently indicated that the State will be providing new cleaning protocols for schools to contain any potential spread of COVID-19. In the meantime, the FCSD is reminding staff to take extra care with our current cleaning procedures, including wiping down door handles and surfaces, as well as taking stock of hand sanitizer mounted stations and desktop pumps in schools.
On March 4th, our district received Interim Cleaning and Disinfection Guidance for Primary and Secondary Schools for COVID-19 from the New York Department of Health. Per the guidance, schools should continue performing routine cleaning. Specific high-risk locations warrant cleaning and disinfection at least daily, including the lunchroom, health office, and high contact surfaces, such as light switches, handrails, and doorknobs or handles.
If an individual with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 was symptomatic in a school-setting, cleaning and disinfection would occur throughout the school.
The cleaning protocols have been shared with our custodial staff and will be implemented immediately.
Besides cleaning and personal hygiene, what else are schools doing to protect against the spread of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19?
Community organizations, including schools, have the ability to implement a range of mitigation strategies, also called Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs). NPIs are actions, apart from getting vaccinated and/or taking medicine, that organizations can take to help slow the spread of illnesses.
A number of NPIs are part of our policies and regular operating procedures, such as contacting parents to pick up ill children and keep them home for a recommended time period, providing hand washing and respiratory etiquette education, and offering paid sick leave to staff.
Can schools release the names of students exhibiting symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 to local departments of health?
In an emergency, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) authorizes school officials to disclose education records, without consent (we collaborate with the health department so that families of course know that this is taking place), to appropriate parties in connection to the emergency, if knowledge of that information is necessary to protect the health and safety of the student or other individuals.
The decision to close schools rests in the first instance with the local board of education or superintendent of schools, in consultation with local health authorities.
Schools will be required to follow requests of the local health department and county emergency managers, as well as any emergency declarations issued by the Governor.
The NYS Commissioner of Education also has the authority to close schools under extraordinary circumstances, in which local school officials do not take action deemed appropriate by State and/or county emergency personnel in accordance with county or State emergency preparedness plans or directives.
Are schools required to close if any students or staff are diagnosed with COVID-19?
As per joint guidance from the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) and Education Department (NYSED), when a school initially has a student or staff that tests positive, the entire school will close for 24 hours while the local department of health investigates and sets forth a plan for any further precautionary measures that the school must take to contain exposure, which may result in additional closure. During this time, the entire school building shall be disinfected in accordance with guidelines from the NYSDOH with approved cleaners. Additional closure beyond the 24 hours is a decision that will be made on a case-by-case basis by the local department of health.
If warranted, how will schools handle an extended closure?
The FCSD will continue to collaborate with local and state authorities, including the Oswego County Health Department, to determine when and if a closure is necessary. We will also utilize any guidance from the New York State Education Department. In the event that we are required to engage in learning due to school closure, the FCSD has plans to support the continuity of teaching and learning.
Unless and until schools are closed, our current FCSD attendance policy #5100 remains in effect and clearly outlines excused and unexcused absences.
Can immunocompromised children attend school or can they stay home?
Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been very few reports of the clinical outcomes for children with COVID-19 to date. Limited reports from China suggest that children with confirmed COVID-19 may present with mild symptoms and, though severe complications have been reported, they appear to be uncommon. However, as with other respiratory illnesses, certain populations of children may be at increased risk of severe infection, such as children with underlying health conditions.
Parents of students with serious underlying health conditions who decide to keep their children home from school will have absences excused if a note from their primary care provider or medical specialist is on file in the school health office. These health conditions include:
a compromised immune system
pre-existing heart and lung conditions
receiving treatment for cancer or for autoimmune diseases (e.g. juvenile idiopathic rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis)
having an organ transplant or a bone-marrow transplant
Materials and assignments will be made available for these students.
How is the FCSD planning to engage in ongoing communication with staff and families?
The Fulton City School District will continue to update these FAQs as new information arises, and will alert the community about the updates on our social media accounts.
Please direct staff, students, and families concerned about COVID-19 to district communications and reliable sources, such as the New York State Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health. Please also invite them to reach out to us with any additional questions.