COVID-19 concerns reach Whidbey Island

— Created March 4, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed Whidbey Weekly

Acting out of an abundance of caution, Oak Harbor Public Schools has informed parents and staff that a North Whidbey Middle School staff member is self-quarantining due to the staff member’s spouse’s contact with potential victims of the COVID-19 virus. The staff member’s spouse has been quarantined as a precaution.

To be clear, there are NO known cases on Whidbey Island and OHPS officials made the announcement to be proactive in terms of student and staff health.

“The staff member was at school after having contact with their spouse, [who] was a first responder at Life Care Center in Kirkland,” explained Conor Laffey, communication officer for OHPS. “The quarantine of the first responder was precautionary and the voluntary quarantine of the staff member is an extra layer of caution. Health officials advise schools and families to take the same precautionary steps whether or not they suspect they’ve had contact with someone who may have been exposed to the virus.”

According to the letter sent out to families Sunday evening, neither the staff member nor their spouse is showing symptoms of the virus. OHPS officials said they immediately contacted Island County Public Health, which recommended the staff member stay home for the recommended 14-day quarantine period. The staff member’s classroom has been sanitized, and extra precautions are being taken by janitorial staff in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

“All staff members have been instructed to use a sanitizing spray to periodically clean hard surfaces that are regularly touched by students, in addition to our increased daily sanitizing efforts by our custodial staff,” said Laffey. “This is simply best-practice to prevent the spread of disease.

“Health officials do not recommend closing schools in our area,” he continued. “We are following the recommendations for ongoing daily sanitizing procedures, including an added focus on frequently touched hard surfaces in our schools and on our buses.”

Every classroom has been stocked with disinfecting supplies and staff are encouraged to use them throughout the day. Students – just like everyone else – are encouraged to wash their hands frequently, cover their coughs and sneezes, and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth. Most importantly, parents should keep their children home from school if they are sick.

“If they have a persistent cough, runny nose, fever or other symptoms, they should not come to school until they are symptom-free for 24 hours,” Laffey said. “If parents see any unusual symptoms or have other concerns for their child’s health, they should immediately contact their primary health provider. For students, we’re reinforcing good preventative habits like handwashing, especially before eating, after using the bathroom and after coughing and sneezing in tissues.”

“The best advice I have received is to remain calm and do what we know already works to reduce the spread of disease,” said OHPS Superintendent Lance Gibbon. “I am in regular contact with Island County Public Health and receiving communication from the CDC and Washington State Department of Health. These are the experts in this area and we will continue to follow their guidance.”

As previously stated, there are no known cases of the COVID-19 virus on Whidbey Island and the action by Oak Harbor Public Schools is strictly preventative. According to the Washington State Health Department as of Monday, the virus is spreading and health officials say there could be more cases locally, although the transmission of the virus is not widespread.

Most Coronavirus illnesses are mild and the majority do not require hospitalization. The elderly and people with underlying medical conditions may experience more severe symptoms, which could include pneumonia.

Anyone with questions or concerns about how the virus is spread or what to do if they have symptoms can call 1-800-525-0127 and press the # sign. The best advice, say health professionals, is for everyone to wash their hands well and often.