Message from the Superintendent: Coronavirus Preparedness Information and Resources
March 9th, 2020
The following update was sent to the HCPSS community by Superintendent Michael Martirano on March 9, 2020:
As the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID–19) becomes more prevalent in the United States and now in Maryland, Howard County residents are understandably seeking assurances from local leaders that they are prepared for every conceivable possibility and everything possible is being done to protect the residents in our county. Please know that HCPSS staff are dedicating significant efforts to collaborating with local, state and federal agencies to provide the most accurate information and informed guidance to residents and leaders in the county as possible.
We have been closely collaborating with the Howard County Health Department (HCHD) on communication and response preparation, and those efforts have been enhanced following the news of multiple confirmed COVID–19 cases in Maryland. At this time, we are fully operational and HCPSS schools and scheduled activities will continue until a change is deemed necessary by local and state health professionals.
Last week, leaders from HCPSS, HCHD, the Howard County Office of Emergency Management, Maryland state government and the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security participated in an extensive tabletop exercise in order to practice HCPSS’ Emergency Operations Plan and Infectious Disease Response Annex that will guide our actions should COVID–19 directly impact Howard County schools. It was a very thorough exercise that challenged our assumptions, forced participants to consider many unknowns, and aggressively tested the plan that will be implemented if local response is warranted.
The best thing we can do at this point is to remain informed and prepared to deal with any situation that arises. With so many variables, it will be critical for all agencies and offices involved to make decisions that prioritize the safety of our staff and students. Preparation and planning, regular collaboration across county and state agencies, regular and thorough communication with county residents, and the implementation of stringent preventative measures are key to ensuring we are ready to respond appropriately as needed.
One of the many strengths of Howard County is the collective and collaborative nature in which we operate to overcome challenges or hardships in our communities. Our response to COVID–19 is no different. We will continue to work together and regularly share information and resources to ensure our schools and families are prepared for this evolving situation. Additionally, we will continue providing updates to the community to keep you informed and prepared.
Updates related to COVID–19 can be found on the Health Department’s website, and those related to the school system can be found on the HCPSS website. Additionally, here are a few important information items and guidance to help keep you informed and activated.
Information Updates and Guidance
Coronavirus Questions: For questions specific to the COVID–19 (Novel Coronavirus) contact the Howard County Health Department’s Coronavirus Information Line at 410–313–6284, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. If you are sick or a medical emergency outside of those hours, please call 911.
Student and Staff Attendance: HCPSS guidance continues to be that students and staff should stay home if they are sick, and come to school and work if they are healthy. An exception is for anyone returning from countries identified by the CDC to adhere to the 14-day quarantine. There is currently no recommendation that family members of people returning from identified countries also be quarantined, so staff and students in those situations should plan to attend work and school. Staff and students who are sick should stay home for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever and without using fever-reducing drugs like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. This helps reduce the number of people who may get sick. Students who remain home due to illness will be given an excused absence. Please contact your school if your child is home sick so the school can help provide support during the absence. Staff are encouraged to contact their supervisor and stay home when sick, especially when experiencing symptoms, and teachers should have up-to-date sub plans on file. Staff with chronic health concerns should follow up with their health care provider as there may be additional recommended medical guidance.
HCPSS will continue to monitor attendance at all schools and share aggregate information with HCHD as necessary. Attendance data may also help HCPSS determine whether staff or student absences have reached critical levels. At the same time, we will continue to ensure all eligible substitutes are aware of these updates, our guidance to staff and students, and are prepared to provide support.
School Buses: The bus contractors that service HCPSS schools are part of our communication loop and remain informed of the situation in our county and schools. Preparation for disinfecting buses has occurred and will be aligned to decisions made in conjunction with HCHD to deep clean a classroom or school. Should the time come, buses that serve an impacted school will undergo a comprehensive disinfection process.
Continued Learning During School Closures: We have had past instances where schools have had to close for multiple days and have worked successfully with our county and state partners to ensure that we meet the MSDE requirements for K–12 education. We are preparing resources for families to engage their child in educational opportunities at home if schools are closed for an extended period of time, however, these resources will not necessarily be specific to the courses that students are currently taking or content currently being taught.
HCPSS does not currently have the ability to implement distance learning if students were required to be out of school for an extended period of time. To do so would require the system to provide 1:1 technology to students and ensure all students have access from home to the internet and provide this access to those who do not. This is not our current reality.
Translations: Translated information on COVID–19 has been posted to the HCPSS website in the four most-commonly identified languages (English, Spanish, Korean and Chinese) so that families with limited English proficiency may contact the appropriate staff to receive information. Additional translated resources will be added this week and our international office is prepared to assist any families in need of language supports.
How to Talk to Children About COVID–19: A number of reputable national organizations have developed guidelines for parents, caregivers and teachers for talking with children about the Coronavirus and infectious disease outbreaks. Some of these resources have been shared on the HCPSS website.
Howard County is a resilient community and able to confront any challenge that comes before us. You have our commitment that our focus during this concerning time is on preparation and informing our communities of any updates or critical information.