Photo used with permission from Center for Disease Control
Since returning from February break, the school has increased concern regarding the recent COVID-19 outbreak. By Feb. 29 a total of 32 trips were canceled and March 2 the annual Global Festival was postponed until October 2020.
From the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, when the first cases were diagnosed in China, Appleby said that the school knew there was a potential for it to be a concern. She said many members of the community have experience dealing with previous novel viruses such as SARS and H1N1.
“In school we started to pay attention to this from day one,” she said.
In terms of discussing school protocol as a result of the virus, Appleby said that there is a total of 25 people involved in the process. The school has a crisis management team, a standing committee that considers potential risks to the school, that meets regularly to discuss the outbreak. That team also provides and seeks advice from the senior leadership team and the academic leadership team.
In the event of an outbreak at ASL, Appleby said that the school would follow specific guidelines outlined by the Department of Health and the department of education. If someone was diagnosed with COVID-19, the Department of Health would come in and work with the school to assess who that person had contact with and who else might be at risk. They may also do a deep clean of certain areas of the school if the person had been there for multiple days.
Appleby said that there are currently no plans to close school because of the virus.
“Currently the advice is that there is no advantage to actually closing a school if a member of the community has been diagnosed,” she said. “We would, depending on the circumstances, likely follow that advice.”
Although Appleby said that there could be a scenario where the school would be forced to close, this is unlikely.
“That would really be something that we would consider very carefully,” she said. “It would have to be a much more cataclysmic stage of things.”
Currently areas of the globe with potential risk of COVID-19 have been labelled as either category one or category two by the U.K. government. Category one includes areas such as China, Iran and 11 towns in northern Italy, where there have been significantly large groups of outbreaks. The government has advised anyone returning from these areas to remain home and self-isolate regardless of whether they show symptoms or not.
“We are unaware of anyone in the ASL community who has been to any category one place,” said Appleby.
On the other hand, there are members of the school community who have been to category two areas – area of general outbreak affiliated with those in category one. Government advice is to live normally and only self-isolate if symptoms appear.
Appleby said that the community has been asked to communicate with the school if they have been to category one or two areas and the school will then advise the next steps they should take. However, Appleby said that there are about 12 students who have chosen to stay home after returning from category two areas despite being well out of an “abundance of caution.”
Appleby said that a couple of parents returning from business trips have been tested after showing flu symptoms, but their results have come back negative.
“Most of them don’t have symptoms and have come to school because that’s appropriate, for those who have felt like maybe they have a cold or maybe they’re not feeling well they’ve all elected to stay at home,” she said.
Within the school, Appleby said efforts are being made to keep up the hygiene practices outlined by the U.K. government. The school has put in place new approaches to cleaning that include cleaning door handles and placing hand-sanitizer gel in various areas. Additionally, posters have been put up in the bathroom outlining proper hand washing protocols.
“We know that the simple best way to avoid spread is just to keep washing your hands,” she said.
Along with advice from the U.K. government and the Department of Health, Appleby said the school works with external security experts who have contacts around the world to access deeper information that might not be in the public realms.
Although the school attempts to remain as informed as possible, Appleby said it is sometimes difficult.
“We try and to be as productive as possible rather than just reacting to what happens. Often that’s hard because we are not a health research facility,” she said. “We are a school so we get access to as much information as we can but sometimes we don’t have everything we’d always like to know.”
Regarding the seriousness of the virus, Appleby said that she is heartened by the fact that most cases only show mild symptoms. She said that she would advise the student body to maintain “an abundance of caution and a reasonable amount of concern.”
“We have to keep that balance in mind, that we want to do everything we can to avoid getting it, but we also don’t want to panic,” she said.
Appleby said that the school is committed to protecting the school community and greater area from any potential spread.
“We are really in a situation of trying to figure out what can we do to the best of our ability to protect our population,” she said. “Also to potentially protect outside pops from any risk of spreading bc we are as an internationally minded school we travel a lot and we need to think about our impact on that.”