As Idaho health officials are now monitoring four confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, new Centers for Disease Control guidelines suggest that closing schools for a few weeks early on probably won’t help stem the spread of coronavirus — and could cause a host of trouble.
“Closing schools early in the spread of disease for a short time (e.g., two weeks) will be unlikely to stem the spread of disease or prevent impact on the health care system, while causing significant disruption for families, schools and those who may be responding to COVID-19 outbreaks,” the CDC guidelines say.
There is a time and place for closures, CDC says. For example, if someone in a school community contracts the virus, the school should consider closing down for a few days to disinfect the campus and track the potential spread of the disease.
Closures of a month or longer, combined with other strategies, can also be effective in localities with “substantial community spread” of the virus, CDC says.
“Waiting to enact school closures until at the correct time in the epidemic (e.g. later in the spread of disease) combined with other social distancing interventions allows for optimal impact, despite disruption,” the guidelines say.
Short-term closures give schools a chance to better understand the disease, but the CDC warns that they also create numerous complications.
For example, they interrupt “key services” such as meals, mental health programs and child care; disproportionately disadvantage households where the parents are low-wage workers; and increase the danger for older people, especially grandparents who care for their grandchildren.
On Friday, state officials reported Idaho’s first confirmed coronavirus case: an Ada County woman in her 50s who picked up the virus at a conference in New York City.
News of a second case broke Saturday. The South-Central Idaho Health District reported that a Blaine County woman, also in her 50s, has contracted the virus.
At 8:45 p.m. Saturday, the state was reporting five confirmed cases of coronavirus in Idaho.
The Ada County case was not caused by a community spread of coronavirus within Idaho, said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator of the Division of Public Health at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, during a Friday news conference.
“We realize this is a very scary notification, but we do want to have everyone understand that the risk to the population still remains low,” she said.
Gov. Brad Little said that the case would not prompt him to ask for school closures. For now, Little and state superintendent Sherri Ybarra are leaving that decision to local districts.
State officials echoed the CDC’s concerns about whether a blanket K-12 closure could strain Idaho’s vulnerable elderly population.
Dave Jeppesen, Director of Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare told the State Board of Education in a Friday conference call that there may come a time when K-12 schools should close — but not yet.
“It’s really about a matter of timing,” Jeppesen said.
Friday’s CDC guidelines recommended the following:
- If there is no community spread, schools should focus on preparation: teaching healthy hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting, and making a plan for a community COVID-19 outbreak.
- In a community with “multiple cases” of COVID-19, schools should work with health officials and consider strategies such as canceling field trips and gatherings, canceling or changing classes such as physical education or choir, where kids are in close contact, increasing space between desks and avoiding mixing students in common areas.
- If community spread intensifies, schools should continue to work with local health officials to consider “extended school dismissals.”
Nationwide, Education Week reports that pandemic-related school closures have affected more than 21 million students.
Governors of three of Idaho’s neighboring states — Washington, Oregon and now Utah — have ordered statewide school closures.
Some K-12 schools, and all of Idaho’s universities have announced they’re moving to online learning in response to the virus. Boise State University is starting that next week, and the rest of Idaho’s public universities will follow suit.
The Moscow School District, which borders Washington, announced Friday that it plans to close facilities for an extra two weeks following spring break, the Lewiston Tribune reported. The district superintendent plans to implement distance-learning strategies so that students can continue the school year.
In the Magic Valley, Kimberly will close schools Monday to prepare for possible long-term closures, the Twin Falls Times-News reported, but plans to resume classes Tuesday.
IEA cancels conference
In other coronavirus-related news, the Idaho Education Association cancelled its 2020 delegate assembly and annual meeting, which had been scheduled for April 17-18 in Boise.
“The health of our members, Idaho students and people throughout the state must be our top priority during this unprecedented crisis,” president Layne McInelly wrote in a news release.
Do you have questions or concerns about coronavirus preparedness in your district? Reach out to reporter Sami Edge at [email protected]