School districts and universities throughout San Antonio are issuing notices to students and parents that they are tracking coronavirus, known as COVID-19, through information from the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, Texas Department of State Health Services, and the CDC.
In the event of an outbreak, officials said communities should plan for “social distancing measures,” such as dividing school classes into smaller groups of students, closing schools, canceling meetings and conferences, and arranging for employees to work from home.
East Central ISD issued a statement on Wednesday to its campuses noting that “while a new type of illness can be scary,” the district is focused on “spreading facts rather than fear.”
“Health officials believe the risk to our school community is low at this time. DSHS is the state authority on all information about the spread of the novel coronavirus, and it is a priority for the state to provide factual information during this time,” said Brandon Oliver, East Central ISD’s director of marketing and communications. “School will be held as long as it is deemed safe and appropriate in our area.”
Local school districts also said health officials are recommending local communities and schools take the same steps to protect against coronavirus as they would to prevent the spread of everyday illnesses such as the common cold or the flu, including consistent hand washing, covering the mouth when sneezing and coughing, and staying home when sick.
Southside ISD said it is taking additional precautions by having custodians clean all of the district’s learning and meeting spaces while students are on spring break. East Central ISD said the district uses Germblast, an environmental disinfection service, at all facilities and will increase their visits over the next few months.
To date, there have been 60 known cases of the infection in the U.S., with 59 among people who traveled to Asia or were close contacts of people who recently traveled there. The vast majority, 42, picked up the virus while quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked off Japan. But CDC officials say the country could soon see more cases as the virus starts to spread through communities in areas outside China, including Iran, South Korea, and Italy.
A person in California who was not exposed to anyone known to be infected with coronavirus and had not traveled to countries in which the virus is circulating has tested positive for the infection. It may be the first case of community spread in the United States, according to the CDC.
Governments worldwide have ramped up their COVID-19 emergency responses. The Japanese government directed schools to close through the spring break, which for most students in that country means early April. Australia’s leader Scott Morrison warned a pandemic was inevitable, and an Iranian lawmaker said on Thursday he has tested positive for the virus.
“As we’ve seen from recent countries with community spread, when it has hit those countries, it has moved quite rapidly. We want to make sure the American public is prepared,” Messonnier said. “As more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder.”
No new cases have been announced among those quarantined at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland since Monday, when the CDC confirmed three new infections were identified over the weekend among the evacuees brought to San Antonio on Feb. 17.
Currently, all six patients who tested positive for the virus at Lackland are being treated at the Texas Center for Infectious Disease on San Antonio’s South Side.
While aggressive measures such as travel restrictions and a federal quarantine have probably slowed the arrival of the coronavirus in the U.S., Messonnier said even more will likely need to be done.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare with the expectation that this could be bad,” Messonnier said. “I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe. But these are things that people need to start thinking about now.”