Guilderland using ‘abundance of caution’ in noting a Lynnwood family is quarantined

— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

When viewed through an electron microscope, the spikes on the outer surface of the virion look like a corona. 

GUILDERLAND — Marie Wiles, superintendent of the Guilderland schools, has some advice for the school community: Stay calm. Be smart. Stay tuned.

She gave this advice on Friday afternoon after notifying parents and staff late Friday morning that “a household connected to Lynnwood Elementary School may have been exposed to COVID-19.”

COVID-19 is, of course, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that was first spread rapidly in humans in Wuhan, China in December and has now spread worldwide.

Wiles told The Enterprise that the school district was notified on Thursday by the Albany County Department of Health.

“It’s a parent who knows someone who may have been connected to it,” Wiles told The Enterprise. “The child has not been in school the last couple of days.”

“It’s one step removed,” Wiles stressed, adding, “We’re using an abundance of caution.”

The family of the Lynnwood parent with the colleague who may be connected to the virus has “voluntarily isolated themselves,” said Wiles. They will stay quarantined “until they are seen to be symptom-free,” said Wiles.

No one in the Lynnwood family has shown signs of the illness, Wiles said. She did not know if the colleague of the Lynnwood parent lived in Albany County.

Wiles doesn’t know if anyone in the Lynnwood family has been tested for the virus, but doesn’t think so. “The individual they know is being tested; the results are pending,” Wiles said late on Friday afternoon.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy announced on Friday afternoon that there have so far been no positive test results in the county for COVID-19, said county spokesman Cameron Sagan. Asked if this would include the colleague of the Lynnwood parent, Sagan did not know if that person was from Albany County.

Friday evening, Sagan told The Enterprise that there are currently 14 households — with a total of 18 individuals — under quarantine in Albany County. Four individuals in Albany County have been tested for COVID-19, he said; two tests came back negative and two are still pending. Sagan said he did not know if the Lynnwood family had been cleared in those test results.

Elizabeth Whalen, health commissioner for Albany County, explained at a press conference on Wednesday that, to keep cases of COVID-19 out of Albany County, people who have returned from traveling to Level 3 countries — including China, South Korea, Iran, and Italy — are being quarantined.

The incubation period for the virus is from two days to two weeks so people are quarantined for two weeks. This means they are put in a controlled environment — often in their homes — before they develop symptoms, Whalen said.

This is different than isolation, which is for people who have tested positive for the disease. This can be managed at home in many cases. Not everyone has to go to a hospital, said Whalen, noting local hospitals are busy with flu patients.

The corona virus is predominantly a respiratory infection and spreads much in the same way that flu does — droplets containing the virus are spread by coughing and contamination of surfaces. 

People are most contagious, Whalen said, when they first develop a cough and fever.



Asked about plans the school district may have developed in case of an outbreak, Wiles said, “Our number-one plan is to follow guidance from the department of health and the CDC,” she said of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “They are the experts … They won’t give us choices about what to do.”

On Monday evening, March 9, the state’s education and health departments issued updated guidelines for school and community health officials, which require schools to close for 24 hours if a student or staff member attended the school before being confirmed as a positive COVID-19 patient.

This day-long closure is to allow the health department to begin an investigation to determine the contacts with people at the school that the ill individual may have had. That investigation is to inform a local health department plan for further required closure or other precautions needed for particular classrooms or people. Disinfection is also to be carried out according to the state’s guidelines and must be complete before students can return to the school.

The guidelines released on Monday evening also go over measures needed to respond to the coronavirus outbreak as well as recommended non-pharmaceutical interventions and ways to contain the virus that include a checklist for schools to use when planning. The State Education Department has a website dedicated to dealing with the coronavirus.

Wiles said last Friday that district leaders have had “numerous conversations about what would be possible” to continue learning if schools were forced to close, as they have been, for example, in Japan.

Students in fifth through 12th grade at Guilderland each have their own laptop and the Google Classroom platform is widely used throughout the district, Wiles said.

But, she went on, “We would need to have time for faculty to plan what it would look like to teach remotely.”

On Tuesday, Wiles met at the State Education Department, along with other other school superintendents, with the interim education commissioner and the chancellor to talk about myriad issues that would arise if schools were to close.

Wiles listed questions ranging from “If students are learning remotely, does that count as a day of school and will we be held to 180 days of instruction?” to “What happens to seniors who need a passing grade on Regents exams to graduate?”

The state’s division of budget, education department, and health department will all have to work together to iron out procedures and plans if schools were to close, Wiles said.

The Guilderland school community was informed in three ways on Friday morning about the Lynnwood situation. The district’s SchoolMessenger service, which automatically goes to every parent in the district, carried a message that went out at 11:40 a.m. A hard copy of the same letter was sent home with Lynnwood students as “backpack mail,” said Wiles. And a message was sent to all faculty and staff across the district.

The district is also sharing with staff resources to help talk to students about the novel coronavirus.

“There are a lot of misconceptions circulating,” Wiles said. “We want to provide facts.”

She stressed that the CDC website had useful information.

Wiles sent home an earlier email, explaining that the district has regular daily cleaning protocols in place to minimize the spread of viruses.

And, although Wiles stressed the county health department has said there is no need for additional preventative measures at this time, the district has nevertheless distributed disinfectant wipes to all classrooms and is disinfecting surfaces that are frequently touched in classrooms or on school buses.

“We’re trying to get ahead of things,” said Wiles. “Products are flying off the shelves … Cliff purchased many, many cases of disinfectants,” Wiles said of Clifford Nooney, who oversees maintenance for the district, which has five elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school.

This added layer of cleaning is taking place not just at Lynnwood Elementary School but all across the district, Wiles said. “We’re rotating through buildings each night with intensive cleaning,” said Wiles.

“We did Lynnwood last night,” she said.

“People are worried,” said Wiles. “My inbox is full.”

She urged people to keep “two big things” in mind:

— “We want to be prepared but we don’t want people to panic. Be calm,” she urged;

— “Be smart … Wash your hands. Don’t be a hero. Stay home if you are sick and get better.”

The district last week and again this week urged families to follow the standard preventative practices for preventing influenza: washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, covering sneezes and coughs with a tissue and then throwing the tissue away; disinfecting frequently touched objects; avoiding close contact with someone who is sick; and staying home when sick.

“Stay tuned,” Wiles concluded. She said information from the district will be distributed in the same three ways as the situation unfolds.

“Good information might take a little longer. We want to be sure we have the facts right.”

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