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Hillsborough school district officials issue update on coronavirus

New Jersey isn't taking any chances.

Hillsborough Township Public Schools District Acting Superintendent Lisa Antunes released a recent statement on the administration’s efforts to address concerns regarding the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease.

Antunes acknowledged in a March 2 statement that district officials are aware of the potential risks of the disease as well as the administration’s priority to protect students and staff from it.

“The safety of our students and staff is a top priority in Hillsborough Township and preparedness is an important aspect to ensure that safety,” Antunes said. “As you may be aware, an outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has spread throughout China and to 31 other countries, including the United States.

“I am writing to provide you with an update on recent developments, and to follow up on an earlier communication about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) posted on our website on Feb. 7. While there are approximately 60 cases in the United States and no confirmed cases in New Jersey, we would like to communicate some important information with our school community to assure you that we are aware of the issue and planning accordingly.”

Antunes explained that while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) directs the public to reach out to school districts for information, the district has yet to receive “any new guidance from the New Jersey Department of Education or the Department of Health.”

The acting superintendent said that the administration is following the advice of the Department of Education, as well as state and local health departments.

“The Department of Health is monitoring information received from the CDC, and is working closely with our county health department to monitor the situation and is preparing guidance documents for healthcare professionals,” she said. “Our school nurses have received up-to-date information from the National Association of School Nurses on how to lead health promotion and disease prevention efforts during this time. Not surprisingly, much of this information is very similar to other causes of respiratory illness, including the flu.”

District officials also released information regarding multiple precautions that parents and guardians could take during this matter to address the potential risks of an outbreak. Officials said parents and guardians should remind their children to wash their hands on a frequent basis, cover coughs and sneezes as well as remain contingent on keeping a sick student home from school.

“If you or members of your family have recently visited those parts of the world identified as encountering higher rates of infection (China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, France, Iran, Hong Kong, etc.) and are experiencing symptoms of a respiratory illness, please reach out to the local health department as well as your school nurse, and seek immediate medical attention,” Antunes added.

She also noted that the district-wide enforcement of these precautionary actions have been taken by administrators, school nurses, maintenance and custodial staff maintain the school system’s “rigorous cleaning routine.”

“This includes wiping desks and other surface areas with disinfectant on a regular basis and frequently changing garbage bags,” Antunes said. “Absences continue to be monitored and appropriate school-based precautions are in place.”

Although reported cases of the potentially fatal disease have increased in the U.S. in recent weeks, Antunes said that state officials don’t “recommend school closure for outbreaks of infectious disease.”

“Moreover, the Department of Education will not allow us to close school as a preventative measure and conduct school online in order to comply with the 180-day school year requirement,” she said. “As such, we will continue to comply with directives from the state and local health agencies and remain vigilant in our disinfecting practices to minimize the spread of infectious disease.

“Currently, district administrators are working on plans for how we may support students and maintain instruction in the event of a district-wide, long-term closure. We will continue to provide excellent and appropriate educational opportunities for children and will remain focused in this endeavor. Should your child(ren) become upset or display increased anxiety or concern about these current events, please encourage him/her to seek the assistance of a trusted adult, including the school counselor,” Antunes added.

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