This week both Lummi Nation School and Meridian School District announced closures resulting from health concerns around COVID-19, a new strain of Coronavirus that has appeared in King, Snohomish and 6 other Washington State counties after being initially detected in China back in December. There have been no positive test cases in Whatcom County.
Lummi Nation School announced on March 6th that the school would be closed March 10th while staff members spend the day sanitizing equipment and furniture. Officials noted “there was no current cause for concern.”
Last night, March 9th, Meridian School District Superintendent James Everett said in an announcement schools in his district would be closed March 10th and 11th due to a staff member at Meridian Middle School who had been exposed on February 29th outside Whatcom County to another individual who tested positive for COVID-19. The staff member is staying home with cold symptoms.
In conferring with the Whatcom County Health Department, our board and our executive team, we have made the decision to close all Meridian District Schools Tuesday, March 10 and Wednesday, March 11 as a precaution and to allow for additional deep cleaning of our buildings and buses. We are also ceasing all district activities, athletics, and meetings. Staff will also remain home.
Whatcom County Health Department officials issued a statement regarding the Meridian closures this morning.
We are aware that the Meridian School District has made a decision to cancel school for Tuesday, March 10 and Wednesday, March 11 because they are concerned about novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Closing schools when there has not been a confirmed case in a student or staff member is not currently recommended by the Whatcom County Health Department. Our recommendations for school closures have not changed at this time.
For most cases, COVID-19 is a mild illness that does not require hospital care. We cannot eliminate COVID-19, but we can limit its spread by washing hands with soap and water frequently, avoiding touching our face (mouth, nose, eyes), staying home when sick until the illness is resolved, covering coughs and sneezes with tissue and washing hands after, and staying away from others who are ill. Statement on Meridian School District Closure from Whatcom County Health Department
Superintendent Everett said, the plan was to resume their regular schedule of classes in all Meridian District schools beginning March 12th.
Regarding building closures and event cancellation decision-making, Whatcom County Health Department issued the following advice on March 6th.
We are now asking organizations and event organizers in our community to consider ways to minimize the risk of spreading infection. We recognize that organizations may choose to implement risk-reduction strategies, such as canceling non-essential gatherings or encouraging employees to work from home.
At this time, we are not recommending any specific closures or event cancellations. Every situation is different and each organization will need to weigh the consequences and benefits of risk-reduction strategies available to them before making any decisions. We understand that businesses and organizations provide essential services and need to maintain continuity of operations while still protecting the health of their employees and our community. Decision-Making About Closures and Cancellations by Whatcom County Health Department
In a letter sent to families and staff yesterday, Ferndale School District Superintendent Linda Quinn said,
You may hear that health authorities are recommending people avoid groups of more than 50 people, yet they are not advising school closures in general. This guidance may seem confusing because schools bring together large groups of children. However, in the case of schools, health authorities note that closures have significant negative impacts on communities, such as:
* Closing schools may not be effective because some children may congregate anyway at other locations.
* Many parents, such as healthcare workers, need to be report to their jobs. If these critical workers stay home with children, the impacts on the healthcare system and other institutions essential for our community may be significant.
* If schools close, some children may have to stay home with alternative caregivers, such as elders, who are more vulnerable to the virus.
* Some children count on our schools to provide them with healthy meals. Ferndale School District Superintendent Linda Quinn