Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.: Collaborating to beat coronavirus

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Dr. Gregory Hutchings (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)
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Alexandria City Public Schools and the Alexandria Health Department always work closely together whenever there is a flu outbreak in a school. We already take precautions to ensure that ACPS schools and offices remain clean and hygienic at this time of year when we often see outbreaks of flu and other viruses.

These efforts have been intensified with the arrival of coronavirus in the United States. We are working particularly closely right now to monitor our schools in order to detect any possible future cluster of the coronavirus and contain it before it spreads.

All ACPS schools are cleaned daily. All of our classrooms are disinfected every day, and frequently touched areas such as doorknobs, faucet handles and handrails are wiped down. Hard surfaces such as desk tops, are wiped down twice per week, while all restrooms in all schools are cleaned using a hospital grade disinfectant. Soap dispensers are also being checked three times a day during school hours.

Hand sanitizer is already provided in every elementary school classroom and will be made available as soon as it is accessible in common areas at all schools. All students and staff will be encouraged to either wash their hands or use hand sanitizer prior to eating. In addition, hand sanitizer will be available on school buses and school buses will be cleaned multiple times each week.

Helping to keep our schools and our community virus-free must be a collaborative effort. Everyone must participate – students, staff, families, volunteers and anyone in the community. Washing hands frequently is the most effective way that you can do this, and regular soap is OK.

ACPS is part of a multi-agency, citywide committee that plans for any health-related pandemic. We have a pandemic action plan that is currently being revised and adapted to meet the specifics of coronavirus should there be an outbreak in Alexandria.

The plan addresses specific activities necessary to keep schools open and operating while providing a clean and safe environment during an outbreak and the essential functions that must be performed by ACPS if schools are closed. At present, we have no intention of closing schools and our overall goal is to do all we can to maintain continuity of operations while minimizing student and staff exposure.

Should we need to, however, we have a plan in place to continue learning – using the Chomebooks and technology students already use on a daily basis to facilitate online study sessions and lessons.

We are beginning to see cases of COVID-19 in the D.C. region and we will continue to monitor the situation closely and use this time to continue preparing. ACPS staff participated in a day-long, health-related table top emergency exercise in January 2020 – well before the coronavirus appeared to be an issue. In addition, we are in constant contact with the Alexandria Health Department to make sure we are doing everything we can to be ready and implement the necessary precautions.

ACPS is taking part in a virtual information session on COVID-19 on Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m. Residents can watch the question and answer session live on the ACPS Facebook page or on the city’s Facebook page.

City Manager Mark Jinks; Dr. Stephen Haering, director of the Alexandria Health Department; and Dr. Rina Bansal, president of Inova Alexandria Hospital, will also be on the panel. If you miss the event live, you can catch it on the ACPS website at www.acps.k12.va.us/coronavirus. This is easily accessible from the home page of the ACPS website.

In the meantime, there are simple things that everyone can do to help. Washing hands frequently with regular soap or hand sanitizer is the most effective way to prevent the spread of any virus. Avoid touching your face or shaking hands, cough into your sleeve or a tissue and throw away your tissue immediately after use.

Finally, please stay home when you are not well and do not send your children to school if they are ill. Anyone who has traveled to one of the highly infected countries is being advised to stay home for 14 days when they return.

ACPS will continue to provide updates as the situation evolves. In the meantime, you can find updates at www.acps.k12.va.us/coronavirus.

The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.

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