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Local schools prepare for coronavirus

The Mississippi Department of Education released guidelines for school districts regarding COVID-19 last week.

The guidance encourages schools to promote hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, and reminds schools to continue routine cleaning as normal. The guidelines also suggest, separating students and staff who exhibit flu symptoms until they can be sent home. It is advised that all students and staff stay home when sick. MDE also offers lesson plans on hand washing and flu prevention, along with direction to prevent stigma and discrimination toward populations or nationalities associated with COVID-19, popularly known as coronavirus.

According to the Mississippi Department of Health website, COVID-19 causes flu-like symptoms and is believed to be spread by person-to-person contact and coughing or sneezing. According to the CDC website, there are no reported cases in Mississippi. There have been 938 cases nationwide reported to the CDC. As of March 10, 20 people have been tested by the MDH Public Health Laboratory for the illness and all have had negative results.

Lynde Luckie, Director of Nursing for the Picayune School District, said basic precautions taken during flu season are appropriate.

“If you’re sick stay home. Cover coughs. Wash hands. That’s basically it at this point, and that will remain in place even if there’s a confirmed case nearby. As long as you are not diagnosed yourself, it’s just maintaining the same rules of flu season and nothing additional needs to be done at this point,” said Luckie.

The Picayune School District is following directives from the state and the CDC, doing regular cleaning and disinfecting buses, said Assistant Superintendent Walt Esslinger.

Luckie is working with younger students to reinforce the importance of hand washing and the importance of covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing, said Esslinger.

The Poplarville School District is also following the CDC and state guidelines, said Superintendent Konya Miller. District administrators met with nurses last Tuesday to ensure policies and resource materials were up to date.

Kindergarten through fifth grade students have been watching video lessons during the morning announcements concerning coughing into sleeves and appropriate hand washing methods, said Miller. The District has also stocked up on aerosols and sanitizing wipes, and administrators have been reminded to ensure that janitorial staff is following appropriate protocol.

The District had a spike in flu cases last month, but currently has a normal number of cases for this time of year.

The Pearl River Central School District teachers are using information and videos from the MDE to discuss handwashing, covering coughs and sanitation procedures with their students, said Superintendent Alan Lumpkin. Sanitation crews in the district are working more intensely as well to ensure all desks are wiped down with disinfectant wipes, Lumpkin said. The district has also begun planning how it could provide school for online education just in case the schools are asked to close, said Lumpkin.

“Schools across the United States are having to close, and we’re starting those discussions of how we’d proceed if we had to close school,” said Lumpkin.

All three districts plan to monitor guidance from the state and the CDC. Information on illness prevention can be found at the Mississippi Department of Education website, the Mississippi Department of Health website and the CDC website.