Message From the Superintendent: HCPSS Coronavirus Preparations
March 3rd, 2020
The following update was sent to the HCPSS community by Superintendent Michael Martirano on March 3, 2020:
The Coronavirus 2019 (COVID–19) continues to be on the minds of Howard County residents. I want to assure HCPSS families and staff that we will continue to provide regular updates to our HCPSS parents and community on our ongoing coordination and collaboration with our local and regional partners. Following the message I sent last week, I am being asked more and more about what the school system is doing to prepare for the possibility of confirmed cases in Howard County and Maryland and wanted to provide some additional background and insight into our ongoing efforts.
Planning is critical, which is why HCPSS has a comprehensive emergency operations plan in place that includes a detailed plan to respond to the spread of infectious diseases. This plan was developed in collaboration with the Howard County Health Department and Office of Emergency Management. We are currently in “phase one,” where the county is deemed to be at relatively low risk of a pandemic disease. In phase one, several actions occur, including providing information to the community, monitoring the health of students and staff, and assessing community use of facilities and field trips on a daily basis.
A policy group of key HCPSS leaders and staff began meeting with me on a regular basis so that we can share information and prepare for all scenarios associated with the prospect that COVID–19 could impact Howard County directly. This team is in constant communication with school staff, community stakeholders and health professionals to ensure that we have the most up-to-date and relevant information to inform our decision making. I will continue meeting with this team, and updating the community on our efforts and decisions.
Providing Information to the Community
Several messages already have been sent to our HCPSS community, and I will continue to send regular communications. It is important to note that no decision is made by HCPSS in isolation and no information will be shared that is not provided by or vetted through the experts at the Howard County Health Department (Health Department). My primary purpose for communication is to amplify the information, resources and recommendations shared by the Health Department, and share the steps that HCPSS is taking to prevent the spread of any viruses and prepare should COVID–19 enter Howard County.
The Coronavirus page on the HCPSS website is the best resource for information related to the school system’s response to the COVID–19 threat. We will continue to post new information, resources and status updates to that page.
Monitoring the Health of Students and Staff
Our school nurses and Health staff do a commendable job of taking care of our sick and hurt children every day. With the threat of COVID–19, they have become even more focused on helping students partake in preventative actions, such as hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, and identifying when students may be sick with a virus. Our school nurses have specific protocols they follow when a student visits the health room and shows symptoms typically associated with the cold or flu.
Additionally, HCPSS school nurses and health professionals are in constant communication with officials from the Health Department, sharing information about the nature of illnesses and receiving guidance as needed. This important collaboration helps the health department evaluate the spread of illnesses in our communities and make informed decisions on actions that must take place in order to thwart the spread of illness.
We have made sure that our health rooms have the necessary equipment to care for sick students and staff and if needed, prevent the spread of airborne viruses such as the common Flu or COVID 19. As a proactive measure, we have deployed all hand sanitizer stations and refills from our warehouse to schools and offices. Additionally, we are purchasing additional hand sanitizer refills to help keep our schools stocked. Every school cafeteria contains hand sanitizer dispensers for student and staff use. School staff have received guidance to allow and encourage hand washing and/or the use of hand sanitizer. We ask that you help us reinforce the importance of regular hand washing with your children.
Assessing Field Trips
Staff are closely monitoring scheduled field trips and making determinations on a case-by-case basis on whether the field trip will be permitted to occur. The primary factor that influences this decision is the location of the field trip and whether that area has a locally declared health emergency. Please note that per HCPSS policy, no international field trips are permitted. This policy has been in place since 2018.
Ultimately, the way that we prepare for the spread of an infectious disease or virus is very similar to the manner in which we prepare for other events that could impact our schools including natural disasters, weather-related incidents and threats to safety. In the event of any confirmed cases of COVID–19 in Maryland or Howard County, or any possibility of a case, we will provide immediate information to the HCPSS community in collaboration with the Health Department.
School Closing Decisions and How You Can Prepare
The safety of our students and staff is our number one priority and drives our decision making on closing specific schools or all schools. Much like you would for winter weather events, I encourage you to think about your family’s plans in case of an unplanned school closing, such as arranging emergency child care or discussing telework options with your employer. A school closing is not ideal, however, it is a possibility if deemed necessary to protect the safety of our students and staff. As far as continuing education, we have had 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.
This was a lengthy update, however, I know that many families and staff are concerned about the uncertainty created by COVID–19 and wanted to provide as much information as possible to address your concerns and questions. I encourage you to contact your healthcare provider, the Health Department or your school nurse with any health related questions. For school specific questions, please contact your principal directly.