COVID-19 precautionary closings expected to follow in other districts

With six confirmed cases and 102 presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts as of late Thursday afternoon, public schools in Northbridge and Webster have been closed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Schools in both districts will be closed on Friday, March 13, though schools in Webster will be closed “until further notice,” according to that district’s superintendent. Northbridge Public Schools Superintendent Amy McKinstry said students are currently scheduled to return to classes on Monday, though a conference call between superintendents, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled for Friday morning.

“I will be holding a meeting with the district leadership team immediately after that conference call tomorrow to determine if we need to take additional precautions or if there are any directives we need to follow from the state,” McKinstry wrote in a statement on the district’s website. “I will send out an all-call tomorrow with a full update to all staff and families.  Until that time, please continue to utilize universal precautions for infection control at home, and remind your students to do the same.”

Webster Public Schools Superintendent Ruthann Goguen said classes would be cancelled in order to allow for “deep cleaning throughout school” for an indefinite period of time. She later added in a tweet that there has not been a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the school community.

“This is due to the possible contact through a family member who may fell under the CDC guidelines for testing of COVID-19,” Goguen said in a statement on Thursday. “We have taken precautionary measures and today all buses are being cleaned before student pick up.”

In addition to cancelling school, Webster Public Schools has also scrapped all after-school activities, including the Park Avenue after school PASS program.

“We take this situation seriously and our students and staff well-being is our utmost priority,” Goguen said, noting school administration is “working closely” with the local Board of Health.

Northbridge schools to reopen Monday

In a statement on the school district’s website, McKinstry said school buildings would be closed on Friday to allow cleaning to take place and enable students to return next week. The one-day closure will “allow facilities staff to do a deep cleaning and sanitizing of all the buildings, in light of the growing number of cases of COVID-19 across the state.” McKinstry added: “As of today, we plan to re-open all of our schools, as scheduled, on Monday morning, and building administrators and Central office will all still be working tomorrow, along with our custodial staff.”

McKinstry stressed there have been no confirmed or presumptive cases of coronavirus within the school district, despite apparent speculation stating otherwise.

“Contrary to some of the information going around on [Facebook], Northbridge Public Schools do not have any confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 on record.  However, to be extra vigilant, we will send students and staff home if they present to our nursing staff with any symptoms that could be synonymous with those of COVID-19,” McKinstry said. “This is just a precaution that many other districts are taking as well.”

When students return to classes in Northbridge on Monday, a handful of changes will be in place to slow the spread of the illness.

“First, we are shutting off our water fountains (except for the water bottle fillers), to prevent students from sharing/spreading germs orally at the fountains.  As such, all students are permitted to bring bottled water to school.  We ask, however, that EVERYONE labels their bottles with their/the student’s names, so that we don’t have people drinking out of someone else’s bottle,” McKinstry said. “In addition, students are welcome to bring Germ-x, Purell or any other form of sanitizing wipes and keep them with them during the day, if they so choose.  We will also have hand sanitizers available throughout each building, and we will continue to encourage frequent hand-washing.”

As has been the case in many other places, Northbridge Public Schools “will be limiting any social events, or evening events that involve anyone outside of the school community (including parents, other siblings of students, and members of the community.)  We will, however, continue to run our clubs and after school activities, as well as sports practices, as scheduled, until further notice.”

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