The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a highly infectious respiratory disease caused by a new virus called SARS-CoV-2 that was discovered in 2019. A pandemic occurs when a new virus appears against the human population which has no immunity, resulting in several, and simultaneous epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of death and illness. A pandemic is determined by the spread of disease and not by its severity.
“Viral Pandemics.” Viral pandemics are characterized by the spread of a novel type of virus to many parts of the world, causing unusually high morbidity (illness) and mortality for two to three years. Most people do not have immunity to the virus and therefore are susceptible to the viral infection. It can overwhelm the resources of a society due to the exceptional number of those affected. A viral pandemic may occur because of the emergence of a new viral subtype with the capacity to spread efficiently from human to human.
“Variants.” Viruses are constantly changing, and this includes SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These genetic variations occur over time and can lead to the emergence of new variants that may have different characteristics. For example, some variant viruses are of particular concern because they spread more easily, cause more severe disease, or may escape the body’s immune response.
Viral mutations and variants in the United States are routinely monitored through sequence-based surveillance, laboratory studies, and epidemiological investigations.
Why Focus on Preparing Schools/Facilities
As the largest employer in DeKalb County with approximately 16,000 employees and 100,000+ students, what the school district does will have a major impact on the community. Because a key response to a viral pandemic will be to minimize social gatherings, schools need to be prepared for enforced and sustained local, regional or national closures by health authorities.
At this stage, education providers play a key role in contributing to cultural change around good personal hygiene practices (cough and sneeze etiquette, proper hand-washing), and prevention of transmission of illness. Education agencies and providers will be central to social recovery after the passage of a pandemic.
How is the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) Planning for a Viral Pandemic?
DCSD has been planning for a viral pandemic since December 2005. DCSD is working with the DeKalb County Board of Health (DBOH), DeKalb Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), DeKalb County Government, health sectors, fire, ambulance and law enforcement departments, and several other community agencies to ensure DCSD is as prepared as possible for a potential viral pandemic. The school district already has in place disease prevention and mitigation programs and protocols. These programs/protocols include instruction for school-based staff and students in proper hand-washing and sneeze and cough etiquette aimed at reducing the transmission of airborne and surface contaminants.
The DCSD’s Plan for Health-Related Issues aims to ensure that school personnel, students, and parents:
- are knowledgeable about preventing the spread of germs and employ infection control precautions
- contribute to preventing or minimizing the effects of the pandemic virus through general health education and infection prevention measures
- are knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of novel virus infections and take the proper precautions when observed
- are prepared for disruption to services resulting from staff shortages or enforced closures
- are employing suitable cleaning and disinfecting methods for prevention and clean up
- have access to crisis recovery measures that address mental/physical health issues, reopening preparation and readiness, assurance of facility cleanliness/disinfection, etc.
Prevention and Education
- Educate and train staff, students, and parents in creating a cultural change relating to infection prevention practices
- Provide information on hand washing practices, use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers (60%+ alcohol) and cough and sneeze etiquette
- Place posters on hand washing and infection control prevention in strategic areas, e.g., bathrooms, cafeterias, front office, classrooms, health clinics and employee lounges
- Provide updated information to staff, students and parents on seasonal influenza, signs and symptoms and precautionary measures
- Ensure custodial staff members have the appropriate training on proper cleaning and disinfecting work areas
Communication (Internal/ External)
School-based and central office leaders will:
- Ensure that an effective communication process is in place with pandemic plans and infection control prevention resources for staff, students, and parents in various languages
- Keep abreast of the district’s updates via the email, NewsFlash, social media, web, news articles, broadcasts, and memos
- Establish an “internal communication tree” and update contact information (telephone numbers and email addresses) regularly for staff members and students
- Test their communication process to ensure efficiency
- Provide information to staff and parents on planning tips at home
- Establish a mechanism to facilitate cultural education at home in the event of school closure or illness
- Develop plans for operating with staff workforce reduction with a backup plan for managing essential operations in their school/ department