School officials throughout the Bay Area are on the alert for indications that students and staff members may be at risk because of contact with a person potentially carrying the coronavirus.
Reports of new cases and cancellation of school classes and public events have surfaced at a steady clip, and are likely to continue doing so. As of the morning of Tuesday, March 10, The Almanac was aware of the following coronavirus-related closures and precautionary actions on school campuses.
Menlo School closed from March 4 to 6 after a staff member interacted with a relative who tested positive for the coronavirus, known as COVID-19. The school said that work crews did a "deep clean" of the entire campus.
The same week, staff members and a student in the Menlo Park City School District were asked to stay home after learning they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
The respiratory disease has infected nearly 115,000 people globally as of 9:04 a.m. on Tuesday.
Menlo School officials at this point don't know the health status of the employee and don't have an estimated time of the employee's return, said Alex Perez, the school's director of communications in a March 4 email to The Almanac. The employee is a staff member who doesn't have contact with students, he noted.
All school-related activities were canceled, including classes, athletics, arts, clubs and planned field trips, Head of School Than Healy wrote in an email to parents on March 3. The school reopened on Monday, March 9, Perez said, but is preparing to offer online learning – through a platform called Haiku – in the event of a future closure.
"Our goal is to maintain as much normality in classroom learning as possible," he said.
Meanwhile, in a March 5 evening email to parents, Menlo Park City School District Superintendent Erik Burmeister said two district staff members have children who attend San Jose preschool Action Day Primary Plus, which closed March 5 after a teacher tested positive for COVID-19, KTVU reported.
At least one district parent works at a company that sent employees home due to a COVID-19 diagnosis, and the district asked the parent's child to stay home too. None of the three individuals who were possibly exposed to the virus is experiencing any cold or flu-like symptoms, he said.
The staff members, who are teachers, have since returned to work and did not need to be tested because "neither they nor their family members were exposed" at the preschool, said Parke Treadway, the district's public information officer, in a Monday email.
"We can't share specific health information, however I can confirm that none of our staff are experiencing symptoms, have received a positive diagnosis, or are part of a County Health contact investigation, which they would be had they had exposure to COVID-19," she said.
Burmeister noted that Dr. Scott Morrow, chief public health officer of the San Mateo County Health Department, and county Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee said that it is too soon to close schools, but that "widespread school closures may be just around the corner," urging people to prepare for that possibility.
The Menlo Park district's schools underwent cleanings as a precaution, but remained open, school officials said.
Morrow recommended the cancellation of "all non-essential gatherings." The Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation, which supports the Menlo Park City School District, canceled its March 7 fundraising auction. All auction items will be moved online and will be available for bidding starting at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 11, according to the education foundation's website. A sneak peak of the catalog can be viewed here.
Officials at other local schools say they've started to prepare for what to do if their schools close due to a more widespread transmission of the virus. Preparations include planning for online learning options.
There are four confirmed COVID-19 cases, and five "presumptive positive" cases pending confirmation tests from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in San Mateo County as of 8:53 a.m. on Tuesday, according to the website for San Mateo County Health, the county's health department.
There are 43 confirmed cases of the virus in neighboring Santa Clara County as of 8:56 a.m. on Tuesday and the county announced its first confirmed death from the virus, a woman in her 60s, on Monday, March 9. The county ordered a ban on large gatherings of more than 1,000 people on Monday, effective at midnight on Wednesday. The emergency order, which was issued by county Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody, would make it illegal to hold any large gathering that meets the number of people designated under the order. The rule will be enforced by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in individual cities
Menlo College President Steven Weiner said in a March 5 email that the Atherton private school's pandemic planning team is adhering to CDC recommendations.
"Those include the posting of notices in all campus restrooms about sanitation, distributing alcohol wipes throughout campus, and recommending travel restrictions," he said "Given the speed with which the situation is evolving, we are closely monitoring the updates provided by CDC and other authoritative sources."
The school has a contingency plan that will allow it to continue instruction, if classes are canceled, through its existing Menlo's Online Learning Environment (MOLE) platform, he explained.
Woodside Priory School officials emailed parents on March 4 that, as a precaution, they have canceled the Portola Valley school's upcoming service week, said Kelly Sargent, director of communications. The week, planned for March 16 to 20, was set to include student visits to a variety of destinations such as Ecumenical Hunger Program in East Palo Alto, Second Harvest Food Bank and San Carlos Adult Day Services. It also included two service trips to Guatemala and Costa Rica.
Due to the likelihood of international flight cancellations, the school is opting to keep both the girls and boys dormitories open for Easter break – April 6-13 – to give boarding students the option to remain on campus if they choose not to travel.
Woodside Priory's spring musical, "We Will Rock You: School Edition," was staged as planned last week, said John Sugden, head of the Performing Arts Department.
Las Lomitas Elementary School District Superintendent Beth Polito said in a March 5 email that her district, which has one school in Menlo Park and one in Atherton, has begun preparing distance learning options for both long- and short-term scenarios through platforms it already uses such as School Loop and Google Hangouts.
Woodside Elementary School District staff are "working hard" to put together distance learning programs using technology if in-person classes are canceled, said Superintendent Steve Frank in a March 5 email. For grades 2-8, they are looking at using the Google Classroom platform, and for students in lower grades – transitional kindergarten through grade 1 – they are looking at Seesaw, a shared learning platform that is tailored to younger children, he said.
District officials will need to decide on whether to cancel an eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C., that is planned for the first week of April, he added.
In a March 4 email to district families, Portola Valley School District Superintendent Roberta Zarea said officials "will continue to follow recommended hygiene and health prevention measures." For example, school campuses will remain vigilant in cleaning common areas such as bathrooms, water faucets, classrooms, playground equipment and cafeterias to minimize the spread of germs, she explained.
Sequoia Union High School District officials continue to plan for all possible scenarios, including using an online learning platform called Canvas, said its spokesperson Ana Maria Pulido in a March 5 email.
Menlo-Atherton High School Principal Simone Rick-Kennel emailed parents on Monday explaining that district schools will stay open, but that the health department has advised school officials to cancel or postpone "non-essential" school gatherings.
For example, the school's Open House scheduled for the evening of March 19 is canceled. The 10th grade college information night for parents and Latino parent series meeting scheduled for Tuesday were canceled. The college information night presentation will be available electronically.
The school's spring play, "Peter and the Starcatcher," that is scheduled to open this weekend has been cancelled.
"In essence we are pressing 'PAUSE' on the production and our hope is to reschedule for a later date," M-A administrators wrote to parents in an email on Wednesday morning. "We understand how much work goes into a production, and know how hard our crew and cast have worked."
Athletic practices and competitions are still on, while field trips are an "ongoing topic of discussion."
The Parent Education Series, Sequoia Union High School District program in which experts in subjects including student academic success and well-being teach district parents, staff and community members about their fields, has cancelled and postponed upcoming events, said series director Charlene Margot in a Monday email. It cancelled its Wednesday event at Sequoia High School on defining healthy boundaries in the digital age. It postponed a March 17 event at Carlmont High School on the impact of social media.
Advice on the spread of transmission
San Mateo County Health issued a public statement on March 5 that signaled a turn toward an aggressive approach to minimizing residents' risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Morrow, the chief health officer, said that it's a good idea to prepare supplies beyond the typical earthquake kit (which usually includes water, canned food and basic first aid items) and advised people to obtain a couple of months' supply of critical medications. He also advised planning how to care for loved ones at home if they, or you, are sick and how you would limit spread within the family.
He advised frequent hand-washing, using a paper towel or tissue to avoid direct contact with commonly touched surfaces, such as door handles or elevator buttons; and urged people to stop shaking hands.
Under all circumstances, he said, people should not touch their face, eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. He said wearing a surgical mask offers some protection, but is most helpful to people who are already sick.
"Surgical masks and masks offering higher levels of respiratory protection are already in short supply and should be prioritized for use in health care settings," he said.
All nonessential gatherings should be canceled, postponed, or held remotely, he said.
He advised increasing the amount of remote working or "teleworking" to the extent possible, especially for those who appear at higher risk for developing the disease, such as those over the age of 60 and those with underlying medical conditions, which include: cardiovascular disease, heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung conditions, cancer and compromised immune systems.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by the Almanac, Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Online here.