Area schools monitoring illnesses, communicating with parents in light of coronavirus outbreak

Students head back to class after a walkout at Crystal Lake Central High School on March 14, 2018, in Crystal Lake.
Students head back to class after a walkout at Crystal Lake Central High School on March 14, 2018, in Crystal Lake.

Although there currently are no cases of coronavirus in McHenry County, area schools continue to do what they can to monitor the illness outbreak and keep in communication with parents.

Coronavirus cases have been identified in a growing number of locations internationally, including the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Monday, the Illinois Department of Public Health and Cook County Department of Public Health announced that a fourth Illinois patient has tested positive for COVID-19, also known as coronavirus.

Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 spokesperson Denise Barr said the district sent out a parent communication about coronavirus last Friday, and they intend to provide ongoing weekly communications to families as long as COVID-19 continues to be an issue of concern.

Superintendent Kathy Hinz, in a message to families, said administration and school health officials are monitoring the situation closely.

“We are in communication with the McHenry County Health Department, the Regional Office of Education and other local and regional agencies working to ensure public health and safety,” Hinz said.

Barr said that the district’s custodial staff has a scheduled rotation where they disinfect classrooms/areas each day to ensure that each classroom/area has been disinfected at least once weekly.

There is a special emphasis on cleaning desks, door handles, faucets, railings and any other surfaces that are deemed “high-touch.”

“In addition to regularly scheduled deep cleaning routines, custodians also perform extra disinfecting as requested by the school nurse or administrator based on the individual needs of the school,” Barr wrote in an email. The disinfectant used by the district is hospital-grade, Barr said.

When high absence numbers are reported by a school’s nurse or building administrator, an electrostatic sprayer, Clorox 360, is used to disinfect the entire school.

“The district begins the deep cleaning/disinfecting rotation process on the first day of school and continues this until the last day of student attendance,” Barr stated. “Should we receive guidance from the Health Department that more extensive cleaning measures be taken, we will do that.”

The school’s health office monitors illness among students and staff, and reports weekly illness rates to the McHenry County Health Department, Hinz said.

Crystal Lake High School District 155 also sent out a communication to parents letting them know they are also monitoring the outbreak.

“In District 155, we are continuing to take necessary precautions to ensure our facilities are properly disinfected and cleaned with the same cleaner used in hospitals, and food service operations to prevent the spread of illnesses,” Olson said. “Nurses have been trained by the McHenry County Department of Health.”

Spokesperson Shannon Podzimek said District 155 used these disinfectant cleaners before the coronavirus outbreak, and will continue to use it to clean bathrooms, locker rooms, desks, handrails and other hard surfaces.

“We have also informed staff and parents that it is important to stay home in the event staff/students are too sick and there is a risk of making others ill,” Podzimek wrote in an email.

Guy Clark, Harvard School District 50 spokesman, said they have been monitoring the situation for a month and plan on communicating with parents in the next week or two in terms of planning.

“We have been taking guidance from the Center for Disease Control and also we’ve received guidance from state as well, and will be working with local health officials,” Clark said.

Superintendent Corey Tafoya said the coronavirus is something that is becoming “more and more” of a reality for the district to think about.

“We are having some meetings this week with various people in organizations to make sure we are coordinated on the steps if we have to get involved in something like this,” Tafoya said.

This means talking to the district nurse, and director of building and grounds to talk about cleaning procedures. Tafoya said they also are planning a meeting on Thursday with all district administration.

It’s usually during flu season that school nurses have a “cover your cough” campaign, Tafoya said, but because of the coronavirus outbreaks the district is still trying to reinforce these messages in March.

“It’s important to get students to understand there’s a lot they can do to to help themselves,” Tafoya said.

Overall, the flu season had not been too bad for the district, Tafoya said. Monitoring illness numbers, there were a couple of spikes, Tafoya said, but they isolated themselves to certain buildings, with nothing extended or out of the normal.

For Woodstock School District 200, decisions about school closings, event cancellations or other considerations would be made in conjunction with health officials, and made in the best interest of students, staff and in the overall public health of the community, said district spokesperson Kevin Lyons.

While McHenry High School District 156 has not received any recommendations to close schools or cancel programs and activities at this point, the district plans to hold online classes if closure becomes necessary, said Amy Maciaszek, spokesperson for the district.

During the closure of the schools, all rooms and surfaces in both buildings would be deep cleaned and sanitized, Maciaszek said.

According to a Feb. 27 letter to parents from Johnsburg School District 12 Superintendent Dan Johnson, office staff is monitoring students who recently traveled outside of the country.

In addition, custodial staff at District 12 have increased their daily cleaning and disinfection of the entire district. 

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