How Concerned Are You About the Coronavirus Outbreak?

How Concerned Are You About the Coronavirus Outbreak?

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that Americans should brace for the likelihood that the coronavirus will spread to the United States. Outbreaks have already occurred in many other countries, such as China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea. How concerned should we be? Should we be doing anything to prepare? What do you think?

In “Most Coronavirus Cases Are Mild. That’s Good and Bad News,” Vivian Wang reported:

As a dangerous new coronavirus has ravaged China and spread throughout the rest of the world, the outbreak’s toll has sown fear and anxiety. Nearly 3,000 deaths. More than 81,000 cases. Six continents infected.

But government officials and medical experts, in their warnings about the epidemic, have also sounded a note of reassurance: Though the virus can be deadly, the vast majority of those infected so far have only mild symptoms and make full recoveries.

It is an important factor to understand, medical experts said, both to avoid an unnecessary global panic and to get a clear picture of the likelihood of transmission.

Does that background make you more anxious? Or do you find it reassuring?

In regions where an outbreak has occurred, such as in Wuhan, China, or the Lombardy region of Italy, government officials have initiated quarantines and closed schools as a way to prevent transmission. Do you think those measures will take place where you live if a local outbreak occurs? Is that something you have been thinking about?

Dana Goldstein and Julie Bosman report on what an outbreak in the United States might mean for schools. The article begins:

Schools in the United States prepare for all manner of disasters and threats, whether hurricanes, mass shooters, tornadoes, influenza or head lice.

But this week, a stark new order came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Get ready for the coronavirus.

Around the nation, school officials and parents were flummoxed by the sudden warning that if a coronavirus epidemic hit the United States, school buildings could be shut down for long periods of time, leaving children sequestered at home.

In alerting that the coronavirus will almost certainly spread in the United States, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said she had contacted her own local school superintendent this week and asked if the district was prepared. She advised parents to do the same. And she suggested that a temporary system of “internet-based teleschooling” could replace traditional schools.

The obstacles to teaching remotely were evident: American children have uneven access to home computers and broadband internet. Schools have limited expertise in providing instruction online on a large scale. And parents would be forced to juggle their own work responsibilities with what could amount to “a vast unplanned experiment in mass home-schooling,” said Kevin Carey, vice president for education policy at New America, a think tank.

The article explores some challenges schools might face in dealing with an outbreak:

Schools are hastily making their own plans, or updating those drafted during previous scares over viruses like H1N1 and Ebola. The Washington State health department held a webinar for about 250 school superintendents on Tuesday to discuss coronavirus preparations, including plans to close schools and allow students to continue to do schoolwork at home.

Dennis Kosuth, a nurse for Chicago Public Schools, said his district’s ability to handle an outbreak could be compromised by circumstances like families who could not afford child care costs to keep sick children at home. Nursing shortages are a concern, too, he said. Mr. Kosuth said he was responsible for nursing care at four schools.

Some Chicago schools also lack rooms dedicated to health needs, Mr. Kosuth said. In one school where many students and staff members became ill with an ordinary infection last semester, “Patient Zero was sitting in the main office coughing and sneezing all over the place” as the sick child waited to be picked up, he said.

On a more positive note, Mr. Kosuth said that evidence from China suggested that children were more resilient to the coronavirus than adults were.

The authors continue:

Many districts have already sent home letters about the coronavirus, asking parents to keep sick children away from school and to remember basic prevention measures such as hand washing, cough covering and vaccination against the flu. They have highlighted C.D.C. advice issued early this month, calling for all travelers returning from China to “self-quarantine” for 14 days.

School officials have often tried to ratchet down panic among parents, reminding families that face masks are not broadly recommended and that the overall risk of infection is low.

But few districts have publicly addressed what would happen to classes in the case of widespread infection and school closings like those that have taken place in China, Italy and Bahrain.

The vast majority of districts have access to broadband internet, but they do not necessarily have expertise in how to effectively organize and teach classes online when schools are shuttered. Further complicating matters, not all families have home computers and high-speed internet. While 90 percent of households with children under 18 had broadband access in 2016, according to federal data, gaps remained along the lines of income, race and education level.

Less affluent families were more likely to depend on smartphones but to lack computers or tablets, which are often needed to fully participate in online learning.

While school districts may not be ready for widespread remote learning, many of the larger districts have had plans for the possibility of pandemics for years, according to Chris Dorn, a school safety consultant with the nonprofit Safe Havens International.

Districts without such plans will need to work with local health agencies to come up with protocols, he said. Among the questions to tackle: Should students at risk for coronavirus who show symptoms at school be transported immediately to hospitals or should they be kept on school grounds until a parent or caretaker can pick them up?

The article concludes:

Closing schools may not be the best option, especially since children appear to be at lower risk of infection, said Amy Acton, the director of Ohio’s health department. Beyond contingency plans for closing, she said, schools need to consider lining up substitute teachers and planning for absences of other staff members, like cafeteria workers. And Dr. Acton said schools can also play another, more traditional, role: science and health education.

“Schools can be telling families what they can be doing to stay healthy, and we can teach about viruses, and what is a zoonotic disease? Why is it important to get a flu vaccine?” Dr. Acton said. “This is a teachable moment.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • How concerned are you about the coronavirus? Do you think the fears are overblown or are you thinking and worrying about it a lot? How prepared are you, your family, your school and your community for the possible spread of the virus to where you live?

  • How have you gotten your news about the coronavirus? Do you feel you have received clear and accurate information? What questions do you still have about the virus or the outbreak?

  • Have you discussed the virus in school? If yes, what kinds of questions and issues have been explored? Have you found these discussions helpful? Do you agree with Dr. Acton that “this is a teachable moment”?

  • What, if anything, is your school doing to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak? Do you think your school’s response has been sufficient? What is your reaction to some of the school plans and protocols discussed in the article? Which do you think are realistic for your school?

  • In “How to Prepare for the Coronavirus,” Gina Kolata offers practical tips from experts like washing your hands, keeping a supply of medicines and getting a flu shot:

The best thing you can do to avoid getting infected is to follow the same general guidelines that experts recommend during flu season, because the coronavirus spreads in much the same way. Wash your hands frequently throughout the day. Avoid touching your face, and maintain a distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

What is your reaction to the advice? Do you think you will change any behaviors in light of virus? Do you wash you hands regularly? Will you now?