Dear Parents/Guardians and Students,
As you may be aware, the county of Sonoma yesterday declared a Local Public Health Emergency as well as a Local Emergency in response to concerns about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). These proclamations will allow county officials to better prepare for the possibility of a community outbreak of the virus.
Meanwhile, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services also confirmed a possible case of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in a Sonoma County resident who had recently traveled on a cruise ship to Mexico. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will conduct a followup test to confirm the diagnosis. The patient, who has symptoms of the virus, is currently in an isolation room at a local hospital.
Additionally, many of you may have heard that The Healdsburg School closed on Monday because of an abundance of caution. THS reopened today as it was determined that the exposure to the novel coronavirus was tertiary, in other words, not direct. At this time, we have not been advised by the county health officer that any school closures are necessary.
While all of these developments, along with the headlines and constant news updates, may be alarming, it’s important that we constantly recalibrate our perspective. The CDC states that “For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low…. And, people in communities where ongoing community spread with the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated though still relatively low risk of exposure.” Additionally, the data is quite clear that small children and teens are the least likely to become infected and get ill.
We heard a number of rumors circulating around school yesterday and want to assure you that there are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 or direct exposure to it at Sonoma Academy. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and we remain in close contact with local, state, and federal public health and emergency management agencies in preparing for a response if necessary.
We continue to encourage all members of our campus community to take the same basic precautions they would employ during any cold and flu season. These measures include:
Get a flu shot. It’s not too late if you or your child hasn’t gotten one yet.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
Cover your cough or sneeze
Most important, stay home when you are sick and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen. There will be no attendance ramifications for staying home sick during this unfolding issue. Additionally, if you are sick, please do not return to school until you are symptom-free for at least 24 hours. Please report all absences to firstname.lastname@example.org
Facility Cleaning and Disinfecting
We have been in close contact with our custodial company and cleaning supply providers about best practices for virus control. Last week, before the run on hand sanitizers, we ordered in bulk to provide for each classroom. In addition, we will be adding hand sanitizer “stations” which allow for more effective dispensing and application of the product.
Santiago Sosa, head of our custodial team, and chef Les Goodman and his colleague Amber Merkely in the kitchen are ensuring more frequent cleaning and sanitizing.
Student and Staffulty Hygiene
During PS announcements yesterday, I reminded our school community of the importance of effective handwashing (wash your hands thoroughly for the full count of Happy Birthday). In addition, we should all follow basic protocols such as coughing and sneezing into one’s elbow, and avoiding touching one’s face. I ask families to encourage these good hygiene practices at home.
Faculty have been asked to encourage student hand-washing upon entering and leaving class. The Commons already has multiple hand sanitizer stations, as well as a bathroom where students may wash hands, and we will remind students to do so before eating.
Instructional Continuity in the Event of School Closure
Additionally, we want to let you know that we have a comprehensive pandemic response plan—developed in alignment with the guidelines suggested by the Sonoma County Office of Education’s Pandemic Response plan—and are in the process of preparing plans for instructional continuity in the event of a required school closure.
Today, faculty are meeting to share best practices for the use of Google Hangouts and other online platforms for class meetings and instruction. In addition, we are establishing an “instructional tech team,” led by our Director of Technology Sean Freese and joined by members of each academic department, that will conduct ongoing research into the best tools and platforms for delivering a compelling “remote learning” experience. While we know this is not the equivalent to in-person class meetings on our beautiful campus, we see this as an occasion for our incredible teachers to apply their creativity to yet another domain; they are more than up to the task (as are our students). Our goal is to provide ongoing structure, in the event of a required school closure, in order to keep our students connected, engaged, and current in their studies, while using this opportunity to deepen their experience with online delivery of academic content.
We have canceled all Spring Break Intersession travel programs and are currently monitoring the situation in the United States. As of now, the Spring Break East Coast College Tour is still scheduled to occur and we are evaluating travel by our Speech & Debate and Robotics Teams on a case-by-case basis.
We highly encourage all families to cancel any planned travel to countries identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as risk level 2 or 3, and to be prepared to self-quarantine for 14 days upon your return from any area determined to be at that risk level (given that the situation continues to evolve, it is possible that countries not currently at this risk level may change in the coming weeks). For more information about the CDC’s travel guidelines, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html
The WHO website is an excellent resource for information about the virus as well as general information on the coronaviruses (CoV) family of viruses; this very brief video explains the virus, and this brief infographic includes best practices for prevention of infectious disease including coronavirus.
This interactive map from Johns Hopkins University provides details on the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, total deaths, and the number of people who’ve recovered, by city.
If you are looking for some ideas on how to talk to your children about the coronavirus, you may find this article helpful: How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus from the New York Times.
We know this is a lot of information and that many of you are probably receiving reports and information like this from multiple sources; we apologize for the redundancy. We did, however, want to let you know the particulars of our plans and hopefully reassure you about the circumstances at large and about our readiness to address the unfolding situation in particular.
Please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me, Ellie Dwight, Darren Duarte, or your student’s teachers with questions. Our COO, Rebecca Brown, can answer any questions about operational conditions and management. The Sonoma Academy staffulty has developed a practice of nimble and thorough response to emergencies and change. This set of plans will evolve and change in response to circumstances. We can only do this with your support, so do be in touch, stay safe, and take care of each other.
Janet Durgin, Head of Schoo