Mike Moore, a supervisor on Klamath Community College’s Facilities crew, wiped down surfaces in a vacant classroom of one of the campus buildings on Tuesday afternoon.
Although no students had been in the classroom that day, Moore said even more care is being taken to increase cleaning efforts on the campus in light of the first presumptive case of COVID-19, or Coronavirus, confirmed in Klamath County on Saturday.
“Because of the Coronavirus, (cleaning) has been emphasized from the staff down,” Moore said.
While the risk level is still low for schools at all grade levels, according to Oregon Health Authority, it was announced over the weekend that the first student contracted the virus in Hillsboro.
Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Department of Education, and Higher Education Coordinating Council (HECC) are advising that it is not necessary to close schools at this time. The state health and education officials convened a telephone press conference Sunday afternoon to answer questions related to navigating Coronavirus in education at all grade levels.
“COVID-19 is now a known presence in multiple Oregon communities,” said Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, during the Sunday afternoon telephone conference. “We know that many parents, students, and educators are worried that COVID-19 will appear in their schools and they’ll want to know what they can expect from their schools and universities as this outbreak continues.
“Schools do not appear to be a greater source of transmission of COVID-19 than other areas of the community,” Allen added.
Allen emphasized that COVID-19 also appears to be a milder illness in children and young people than it is with the elderly and those with underlying health risks.
He also emphasized that in addition to learning, public schools provide vital services to youth and their families and that school closures could have disproportionate effects on families struggling to make ends meet.
“For many students, schools may be the only place to access regular meals or medical care,” Allen said. “Parents and caregivers may have jobs that don’t offer paid time off. The public health benefit from school closures is likely low compared to the negative impacts on communities and populations facing the greatest health and social inequities.”
KCC, Oregon Tech urge cleanliness, caution
Klamath Community College has plans in place to keep KCC going even if the physical campus were to shut down, according to President Roberto Gutierrez.
The campus has also increased cleaning onsite, added signage about proper hand-washing, and increased the availability of hand sanitizer.
“If we have to shut down the campus, then that’s what we have to do,” Gutierrez told H&N.
“We are ready for that just in case, and shutting down the campus doesn’t mean shutting down the college,” he added.
“I believe we are well prepared in case that happens.”
Gutierrez said 74% of KCC students either have taken one distance education class or are currently enrolled in one.
“They’re very savvy when it comes to distance education,” Gutierrez said. “We have the infrastructure in place, our faculty know how to teach this. They’ve done it now for quite a few years.”
Gutierrez said the scenario of shutting down the campus would only be implemented if an “outbreak” of the virus occurred on campus, not just one case of the virus.
“We hope it does not happen, but we have to plan for the worst, just in case,” Gutierrez added.
Oregon Tech has compiled a response team as a precaution to the announcement of Coronavirus in Klamath County.
At this time, travel during Spring Break has not been banned for students or employees, according to President Nagi Naganathan in a statement on the university’s website.
Students and employees are encouraged not to travel to places with known cases of Coronavirus. If they, do they are advised to not return if they have symptoms of the virus.
“Oregon Tech takes the health and safety of all its community members as highest priority, and is planning for a variety of contingencies in the event of a confirmed case on any of our campuses/teaching sites,” said Oregon Tech President Nagi Naganathan in a statement. “University administration receives frequent updates regarding COVID-19 from the Oregon Health Authority, and the university’s Director of the Integrated Student Health Center (ISHC) is also in close contact with Klamath County Public Health and other state agencies.”
Naganathan encouraged students and employees to consider all factors when traveling abroad, including that some countries are prohibiting individuals from entering.
“Spring break is approaching quickly and we are encouraging everyone to consider not traveling to areas with cases of COVID-19,” Naganathan said. “If you do travel and become ill, please delay your return to campus until you do not have a fever or other symptoms for 24 hours. Students living on campus in Klamath Falls can stay in housing over the break by signing up with the Housing Office.”
KFCS, KCSD respond
Klamath County School District and Klamath Falls School District have compiled a joint list of answers to a list of frequently asked questions about the virus on both district website. They are asking that parents and guardians monitor the following symptoms while determining a student should or should not attend school:
- A fever higher than 100.4 degrees. Students may return after being fever free (without fever-reducing medication) for 24 hours.
- A cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing related to illness.
- Any unexplained vomiting. Students may return 24 hours after the last episode.
- Diarrhea (three or more unexplained episodes of watery or loose stools in 24 hours or sudden onset of loose stools). Students may return 24 hours after the last episode.
- A new rash accompanied by a fever. Students may return after the rash goes away or clearance is given by a healthcare provider.
“Klamath County public health officials told us that all contacts of the person with presumptive COVID-19 have been contacted and proper precautions have been taken,” said Glen Szymoniak, superintendent of county schools, in a statement on the website. “At this time, public health officials say there is no risk from that case to our school communities. If a risk occurs in the future, you will be notified by the school district.
“We also were briefed by public health that the guidelines for determining whether someone with illness should remain home have changed. Under new guidelines, people who have a fever OR a cough OR breathing problems should remain home from school and workplaces,” Szymoniak added.
“Our school district Emergency Response Team will continue to work closely with county and state health officials, and we will keep you informed of any new developments. District sanitation protocols remain in place for all school buildings and on our school buses.”
In an interview with Herald & News, Klamath Falls City Schools Superintendent Paul Hillyer said the city school district is cautiously planning for the worst while hoping for the best.
Hillyer referenced the case of the middle school student in Hillsboro and that the school did not close it’s doors following the announcement. He plans to treat such an occurrence similarly in the city school district.
“Closing school would be absolutely a last resort,” Hillyer told the H&N by phone on Monday.
“We’re really under the assumption that it’s not going to get to that point.”
Both districts have placed an emphasis on encouraging students to wash their hands and to not come to school if they experience Coronavirus symptoms. Hillyer said the district will continue to follow the direction of Klamath County Public Health.
The district is looking at how they would conduct school for students if there is a need to close school for a period of time.
“We’re starting to just explore some different options with ways that we could be having students at home but still having learning take place,” Hillyer said.
At this time, he has no plans to put this plan into action.
“We’re just assuming that we’re going to be able to continue things the way they are,” Hillyer said.
“We want to be prepared in case the worse does happen. The last thing I want to do, however, is give the impression to our families that we’re expecting that we’ll have to close school … My expectation is that we will not have to.”