The global fear of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, has resulted in major tradeshows and industry events canceled around the world. But the threat has also resonated with area school districts, which have implemented local flu pandemic plans and canceled spring break trips overseas in response to the global health crisis.
Leslie Rodriguez, Dominican University’s executive director of external engagement, said “university-sponsored spring break trips have been cancelled in response to [Centers for Disease Control] recommendations and after consult with many of the other higher ed institutions in the city. We are one of many schools that have canceled spring break trips.”
On March 9, Karin Sullivan, District 200’s communications director, confirmed that Oak Park and River Forest High School officials have also canceled spring break trips to Italy and France.
Currently, she said, district officials are working with travel agencies “to obtain as much of a refund as possible.” In addition, she said, D200 Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams has been meeting with families of students who were supposed to go on the foreign trips. Sullivan said the district also has a pandemic flu plan, which has been reviewed by the district’s threat assessment team.
On March 3, D200 officials notified parents and students that, based on guidance “provided specifically for schools by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE),” OPRF was altering its 12-day absence policy for illnesses.
Starting March 4, “and for the rest of this semester, as long as a parent/guardian calls the attendance office to report a student is absent due to illness, the absence (1) will be excused and (2) will NOT count toward the 12-absence limit,” district officials said.
A planned trip to Italy that Trinity High School students had been planning on taking has also been canceled.
“The travel company proactively canceled the trip two weeks ago,” said Patti Williams, Trinity’s marketing and communications director, in a March 10 email. “They were very generous in refunding the trip as the concern for the health and safety of our students was their priority.”
Both elementary districts in Oak Park and River Forest have also implemented pandemic flu plans, with officials in River Forest District 90 and Oak Park District 97 indicating that they’ve been following recommendations by the CDC, the state education board and state public health department.
Some of the preventative steps outlined by officials in those districts include closely monitoring attendance for possible trends in the number of illnesses reported among students and staff; sharing information about steps to prevent the spread of the virus with students, staff and families; deep cleaning buildings and grounds; and informing staff and students to stay home if they’re experiencing symptoms of illness.
Earlier this month, Dominican University experienced a scare when university officials notified the college community that a student who had been in contact with a patient undergoing treatment for coronavirus did not test positive for the virus.
“The test approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health confirms the student did not contract coronavirus (COVID-19). The institution will continue to walk alongside the student and is thankful to the campus community for the collective response and outpouring of care,” university officials explained in a statement.
Dominican’s student newspaper, the Dominican Star, reported that on March 2, Barrington Price, Dominican’s vice-president of student success and engagement, said that the student, who lives off-campus, had come into contact with a coronavirus patient. Price said the student was not showing symptoms and would be quarantined at home for another week.
On Monday, Gov. JB Pritzker issued a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak. So far, there have been 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois.
“I want to emphasize that this is a statewide response with robust preparations and deployment of resources in southern, central and northern Illinois,” Pritzker said during a news event in Chicago, according to a report by Capitol News Illinois.
“What we need now is to make sure that we have access to the resources because we can see from the other states, from the other countries, what’s coming — there’s going to be an increase in cases,” Pritzker said. “… It’s my job to protect people — their health and their safety — and so I felt like … just the general trend of cases across the United States, it seemed incumbent upon me to step forward now and have Illinois do everything we can.”
Capitol News Illinois reported that the state’s Public Health Department “updates its coronavirus website on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It also maintains a hotline for citizens who have questions about the virus or want to report suspected cases: 1-800-889-3931.
“Illinois additionally has an insurance hotline for those with questions or complaints about their health insurance coverage: 1-877-527-9431.”