Dear Parents, Guardians, & Students,
Yesterday, we were all hit by a barrage of intense news warning us to brace ourselves for the increasing likelihood of a novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak within the United States. Additionally, as many of you may be aware, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services (DHS) today confirmed one case of a COVID-19 patient being treated at a hospital in Sonoma County. This patient had been on the quarantined cruise ship in Japan but is demonstrating no symptoms.
While this information may have generated a lot of concern, it is important to note there is still a very low health risk to the general public in California, with no evidence to date of sustained person-to-person transmission within the United States.
At the same time, you may be wondering what we are doing to be prepared and what you might do to keep you and your family safe and reduce any possible risk of transmission. I am currently at the annual convention of NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools), along with several SA colleagues. This evening, we attended a comprehensive session in one of the hotel ballrooms with school leaders from all over the country, as well as overseas. The messages we heard are consistent with what we are hearing from both local and national health officials.
Every source recommends the following basic hygiene and health practices as a first defense against COVID-19 (as well as the flu and other infectious illnesses):
Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,
Avoid touching your eyes and face,
Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow,
Stay home when ill, and do not return to school until a minimum of 24 hours after the end of a fever
To this end, the school will be supplying hand sanitizer in all classrooms; it is already in the Commons. Please encourage your child(ren) to wash or sanitize their hands frequently throughout the day.
As regards face masks, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), face masks are most useful for preventing disease spread when they are worn by people who have symptoms. This is why people are asked to wear a mask at doctors’ offices and hospitals if they are coughing or sneezing.
The planned Intersession trip to Japan has been canceled. We are currently planning to proceed with the trip to Norway and England. The East Coast college tour will also proceed as planned.
Although we are not at this moment anticipating a school closure, the situation remains fluid, and we want you to be aware of the fact that, in addition to the general homework plan we have in place when school might be closed due to power outages or evacuation (which by nature cannot rely on the internet), our faculty meeting next week will be devoted to exploring how we can use Google Hangout for long distance learning.
One of the questions in the hotel ballroom focused on an issue very much on our minds: the difficulty for students from China who have fears about family back home and face uncertainty about when they might return home. We have heard from some of our Chinese alumni that they have experienced discrimation at their colleges, which makes us very sad, indeed. We are heartened that our community is so attentive to these students' needs and concerns.
While we know that the news has been alarming, we want to emphasize that the health risk in the US is very low. While it is important to be appropriately cautious, we also, to put it plainly, do not want to panic. As our friends on the other side of the pond might say, “keep calm and carry on.” And be prepared.