As the region reacts to the fast-spreading coronavirus, one of the Philadelphia region’s top private schools, Germantown Academy, informed more than 1,000 students, parents and staff on Sunday that its Fort Washington campus would close for most of March.
A Montgomery County resident presumed to be infected with the covid-19 virus is a family member of a Germantown Academy student, which could have exposed the student to the virus. While the Germantown Academy student has “no symptoms,” the student will “self-quarantine at home for at least two weeks,” the head of school, Rich Schellhas, said in a letter.
School officials, responding to fears by parents and seeking to protect the health of students and staff, are reacting to the virus as the U.S. death toll, now at 21, mounts, and as new presumed cases of infection are reported.
Malvern Prep, for instance, announced on Sunday that it was canceling all domestic travel. But officials in the Central Bucks School District, which abruptly closed five schools on Friday, said that they would be reopened Monday after a deep cleaning of the buildings, and no students or staff who came into contact with an infected person from out of state two weeks ago have exhibited symptoms or tested positive for the respiratory illness caused by the virus.
Also on Sunday, two more people have tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus in New Jersey, bringing the state total to six, state officials said. And 27 more people are currently under investigation in nine counties, ranging from Sussex County in the north to Cumberland County in the south, according to state Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli. “As you see, from the north to the south, the coronavirus seems to be spreading,” Persichilli said.
Trump spoke on the conference’s last day, and the organizers said the attendee had not come into contact with him or Vice President Mike Pence. But Sen. Ted Cruz (R.,Texas) said Sunday that he shook hands and had a brief conversation with the infected man and would quarantine himself at home.
In Pennsylvania, two more presumed positive cases of coronavirus were identified in Lower Merion on Sunday, for a total of six cases in Pennsylvania. The two adults, a man and a woman, live together, have mild symptoms and have isolated themselves at home, the Montgomery County officials said. Both tested positive after being exposed to the virus while traveling internationally, authorities said.
As of Sunday, there were a total of four presumed cases in Montgomery County, including those in Lower Merion, and one each in Wayne and Delaware Counties.
As Germantown Academy’s decision made clear, the coronavirus-threat fallout to students could be substantial. There are now reports throughout the region of canceled classes, sports practices and games, SAT exams and travel.
Central Bucks School District officials announced on Sunday evening that five schools that were abruptly closed on Friday over virus fears will reopen Monday after a “deep cleaning” and consultations with county, federal and state officials.
“We will continue to employ an elevated cleaning protocol in our buildings and buses, while paying extra attention to bathrooms, desktops, door knobs any other high touch/high traffic areas. As we explained, all buildings and buses are cleaned using products on the Environmental Protection Agency’s registered antimicrobial products list for use against covid-19,” superintendent John J. Kopicki said in a statement posted on the district’s web site. Central Bucks enrolls 18,000 students.
The district closed Central Bucks South High School, Tohicken Middle School, Tamamend Middle School, Butler Elementary School and Titus Elementary School. Central Bucks officials believed that students and others could have come into contact with an infected person from out of state in a meeting.
In Chester County, on the heels of canceling all international travel due to the coronavirus outbreak, Malvern Prep on Sunday decided to put a stop to all domestic travel, including academic and athletic school trips “traveling in any capacity (air, bus, train, etc.),” the Rev. Donald Reilly, head of school, said in a notice sent to students, faculty and staff.
“This decision was not made lightly. We understand that this is not ideal; however, many states, including Pennsylvania, have issued states of emergency. This indicates that they expect the outbreak of the coronavirus to escalate with a need for resources from the federal government. Also, as a school, we cannot put our students in a situation where their health is at risk or where they may need to be quarantined either at home or away,” Reilly’s note said.
So far, the school has no plans to cancel classes.
“While we hope not to close school for any length of time, out of an abundance of caution, we feel it is important to train our faculty and staff for remote learning days,” Reilly said. Faculty and staff have been instructed to bring work materials/laptops home with them every night in the event of a closure.
“This information is not meant to cause undue panic. As a school community, we are remaining calm so as not to raise anxiety among our students. However, we feel it is best to be prepared as this situation is ever-evolving,” Reilly said.
Germantown Academy will offer classes online beginning Thursday, under its “Virtual GA” platform, as it cleans school buildings. The school also canceled SAT tests scheduled for March 14 on its campus.
In an email, Schellhas added that “we will not hold athletics practices or games until after March 17. We have not yet decided when we will resume – it will depend on the evolution of the virus in our region.” Students are expected to return to campus after spring break on March 30.