On March 11th, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) a pandemic.
Even before the news broke, schools across the United States were responding to the global crisis. Closing schools is a proven measure that has been shown to slow the spread of disease in countries like China and Italy, but it also causes huge economic and social disruption, especially for students and their families. So the question becomes: to close or not to close?
What you need to know
Last Friday, March 6th, the US Department of Education released new details on its Coronavirus task force, and shared their website to help schools and colleges prepare for and respond to the disease. The website has the latest guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for administrators of childcare programs and K-12 schools. Public officials don't want to close schools unless they absolutely have to, and many are only closing if there’s a confirmed case within the school—yet research suggests the best time to close schools is before that even happens.
"If you wait for the case to occur [in your school], you still have wound up closing the school, but now you've missed the opportunity to have the real benefit that would have accrued had you closed the school earlier," Yale University sociologist and physician Nicholas Christakis told NPR. "It's sort of closing the barn door after the cow is gone."
With experts pushing social distancing as a top priority, many schools are taking heed of this advice and closing before a case finds its way through school doors. So what does this mean for you as a student? Here’s what US high schools and colleges are doing to prevent the outbreak from continuing.
High school closures
Many high schools have chosen to close or suspend classes for anywhere from two weeks to indefinitely. Education Week has been updating their map of school closures due to Coronavirus twice a day. As of March 11th, 1,251 schools have been closed or are scheduled to close, affecting 856,520 students. Is your school one of them?
College and university closures
Colleges and universities are just as concerned about the outbreak as K-12 schools. By now, almost all higher education institutions have at least communicated with their student body about the actions they’re taking to ensure student and faculty safety, either around campus or electronically. Make sure to check your spam folder if you haven’t received an email yet!
Inside Higher Ed has shared a crowdsourced spreadsheet of school shutdowns, so take a look if you’re not sure about a friend or family member’s school status.
Related: How to Survive Flu Season in College
So your school’s closing: what now?
Yes, this is serious–but don’t freak out. Though you’ve probably heard most cases are mild and that young, healthy people aren’t at risk, there are people who have an extremely high risk of severe cases (and possible death). Rather than to create panic, the closures are an attempt to stop the spread of the disease in order to protect these vulnerable populations. It also prevents hospitals and health care workers from being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases that require medical attention.
Keep this in mind: the effectiveness of school closures is dependent on students staying at home with their families and limiting social contact. Consider postponing any upcoming social events that you had planned—after all, better safe than sorry.
So your school’s not closing, how can you stay safe?
If the virus continues to spread, it’s more than likely that your school will close. In the meantime, here are steps you can take to keep yourself safe:
- Keep washing your hands (for at least 20 seconds each time) at every opportunity, especially after using the bathroom, before eating, or after touching anything that isn’t yours.
- Keep your distance. Temporarily put a stop to high-fives, handshakes, and hugs even with good friends and family.
- If you’re able to, avoid large gatherings, including lectures of 10+ people, especially in poorly ventilated locations.
- Stay home if you’re not feeling well. This is imperative. Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and other respiratory distress. The incubation period for COVID-19 is thought to be within 14 days following exposure, so plan accordingly.
Related: Sniffles and Strep: What to Do When You’re Sick at College
What happens next?
Make sure to keep an eye out for updates from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the WHO for the most accurate, up-to-date information about COVID-19. Try to fact-check anything you see on social media unless it’s properly sourced and vetted by professionals in the field of infectious disease. Lastly, don’t panic—just take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and others. Stay safe out there.
From the CollegeXpress Team to you, we hope everyone stays safe and healthy!