Image via Shutterstock Image via Shutterstock

Alexandria City Public Schools in northern Virginia explains how they are preparing for a potential coronavirus outbreak.

This post was originally published on Dogwood, Courier Newsroom’s local news site for Virginia.

The continued spread of coronavirus throughout the United States has prompted schools around the country to close. No cases have been confirmed yet in Virginia, but it might not stay that way for long: Maryland declared a state of emergency Thursday after identifying three Covid-19 cases in Montgomery County, just outside of Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia.

We spoke with officials at Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) to get an idea of how they are preparing for a potential outbreak, including how they’ll determine if it’s necessary to close local schools.

“We need to be proactive to limit the impact,” Helen Lloyd, head of communications for ACPS, said in an interview. “We are working every angle and with all city departments and leaning on state support to ensure we are as prepared as possible.” 

Educating students in class about preventive measures

Alexandria PTA Council’s Greta Gordon told us school nurses have been tasked with talking to classes about the virus and how they can stay healthy. 

“School nurses have been making the rounds to classrooms and going over some general health and wellness ideas like how you should stay home if you’re not feeling well and not go to school,” Gordon said in an interview. “I think it’s important that initiatives are being taken with the students themselves and also that information is being communicated with parents.”

“Right now, our focus is on keeping our schools healthy,” Lloyd added. “We are also reminding students to stay home from school if they are sick and see their primary care physician if they have symptoms.” 

Working with the local health department and other city agencies

Llyod said ACPS also relies on advice from Alexandria’ Health Department and other city agencies for guidance.

“We will continue to refine our plans in line with the advice of the Alexandria Health Department and multiple agencies across the city. Any decision to close schools would be made on the advice from the Alexandria Health Department,” Lloyd said. “We already monitor absences due to sickness closely to catch any potential issues early.”

Ultimate decision on school closures is made by the school superintendent

If an outbreak spreads, a decision on when to close schools would ultimately be made by ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchins. Lloyd said that process would involve collaboration with local health departments.

Online learning plans and food access

If schools do close, Lloyd says ACPS is preparing to ensure students can learn at home, and those who rely on school meals for food will still have access options.

“We do have a plan in place to continue learning, using the Chromebooks students already use on a daily basis to facilitate online study sessions and lessons,” Lloyd said.

As for school meals, Llyod said they have experience providing food for students who need it.

“We always put plans in place for when students are out of school for a long period of time like during a snow event, for example, we provide food access to students and families who need it,” she said. “In this case we have processes in place already.” 

Typically Alexandria will open one centrally-located cafeteria to provide low income students with food.

For more information on coronavirus please visit the CDC and Virginia Department of Health