More than a dozen schools across the state shut their doors or canceled plans Monday as they received intelligence or suspicions that students might be at risk for novel coronavirus.
Sixteen K-12 schools and one college in Washington closed Monday, according to a running list from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. A few more, including Kentwood High and Covington Elementary in Kent, also planned to close Tuesday.
In Puyallup School District, news of the cancellation came as students were already on their way to class. On Twitter, the district said it was closing Ferrucci Junior High School and Wildwood Elementary out of “an abundance of caution” because a relative of a district family had exhibited “flu-like symptoms.” The district redirected Ferucci students already on buses to Puyallup’s Karshner Center.
North Kitsap School District’s Kingston High also canceled classes Monday morning, after learning a student was being tested for the virus. That district redirected students to another school. Kingston was slated to reopen Tuesday.
In Northshore and Mukilteo, officials decided to close schools even when local health officials said closures weren’t necessary.
“Even a low risk is too much,” said Michelle Reid, superintendent of the Northshore School District, home to Bothell High, the first Seattle-area school to close last week in response to a possible case of the virus.
As school officials wait on test results to see whether their schools had been exposed to the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, many told the public they’re taking some extra precautions, including more cleaning than usual. The public is chiming in, too: Several petitions with thousands of signatures emerged demanding administrators close schools that didn’t have any confirmed cases of the virus, including at the University of Washington, Bellevue School District and Lake Washington School District.
By Monday evening, there were 18 illnesses and six deaths associated with the novel coronavirus in Washington state, which has become the national epicenter for the virus. Unless they have underlying health conditions, preliminary research suggests children are at a lower risk of developing serious complications to COVID-19, whose symptoms resemble those of the flu.
At Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Snohomish County, which closed after one of its students tested positive for the virus, the Everett School District dispatched eight people to disinfect door knobs, counters, drinking fountains and other surfaces that the school’s 2,274 students and 108 teachers frequently touch. The school is reopening Tuesday.
That process isn’t all that fancy or different from the routine disinfection that custodians normally do in schools, which are notorious hotbeds for infectious disease, both minor and severe.
“Special processes beyond routine cleaning are not necessary nor recommended to slow the spread of respiratory illness,” according to the Washington State Department of Health website.
And some districts found themselves waiting for news. Renton’s Hazen High School closed Monday because a student with flu-like symptoms awaited their test results for the virus. Late Monday, district officials said the school would reopen Tuesday because the district is finished with disinfecting the campus. The student who is awaiting test results is still sick and won’t be attending class.
In schools with no confirmed or suspected cases of the virus, such as Lake Washington and Seattle Public Schools, officials said they are bracing for impact and keeping in close contact with health officials. Some, like the UW, are canceling plans.
The university suspended all of its study abroad programs in Italy until further notice after the CDC warned travelers should avoid the nation due to a widespread, ongoing outbreak there.
The move affected nearly 100 UW students — mostly in Rome — enrolled in faculty-led programs in Italy. The school encouraged its students in Italy to return home as soon as possible and will be able to complete their coursework for the current quarter remotely, said UW spokesman Victor Balta.
More than 450 UW students are now enrolled in study abroad programs worldwide, though none has been diagnosed with coronavirus.
Other school building closures are planned for the future:
- As of late Sunday, Northshore had planned to cancel school Tuesday — so that teachers could learn how to teach courses online in case of a protracted closure, and so that all schools could receive a deep cleaning.
- Mount View Elementary School in the Shelton School District planned to close Tuesday because a teacher there is married to a first responder at the Life Care Center, where the majority of King County’s confirmed COVID-19 cases were found.
- Eastside Preparatory School, a private school in Kirkland, will conduct school online from March 9 to March 27, according to a statement from the school.
Staff writers Lewis Kamb and Elise Takahama contributed reporting.