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Minnesota schools preparing for 'likely' coronavirus outbreak

"This might be bad," said a CDC official of the coronavirus outbreak reaching the U.S.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put Americans on notice with word that the global outbreak of the coronavirus will "likely" become a problem in the United States.  

"This might be bad," said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Messonnier is encouraging parents to ask schools about plans for closures if the coronavirus outbreak does cause significant disruptions in the U.S. 

The CDC said the U.S. government and health departments are taking aggressive steps to mitigate the coronavirus, but admitted that "these measures might not prevent widespread transmission of the virus in the United States."

Approximately 2,500 people have died of the virus so far, the majority of fatalities in China where it was first discovered. No deaths have been reported in the U.S., where only 14 cases have been diagnosed with another 39 patients attracting the virus overseas before returning to the states for quarantined treatment and observation. 

No cases have been confirmed in Minnesota, but state officials tell MPR that it's "very likely" Minnesota will have outbreaks and that when it hits, it will "hit hard." 

Minnesota school districts are preparing

The state's largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin Public Schools, is home to more than 38,000 students, and district leaders have met with the Minnesota Department of Health to prepare a plan of action. 

"The district will follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance and will partner with public health on any concerns," a school spokesperson told BMTN. "The experience that most closely matches this current concern was the 2007 SARS outbreak, and preparations made for that possible situation have helped to shape the current response to Coronavirus."

In the event of an outbreak, anyone considered a medium risk will be directed to stay home for 14 days after possible exposure, with those patients in daily contact with the Department of Health. 

"We want our schools to be prepared for this topic and any situation to ensure safety for students and staff," the spokesperson added. 

Reaching the point of school closures would be unprecedented were it to happen at District 196 (Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan)

"Not in my almost 25 years here do I recall where we've closed all or even single school [because of an outbreak], said District 196 communications specialist Tony Eatchel. 

District 196 plans to stay in close contact and follow guidance from Dakota County Public Health in addition to state and national health officials. 

Minneapolis Public Schools is utilizing action plans from the 2009 swine flu pandemic (H1N1 influenza) to prepare. 

"From H1N1 to the measles, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) has demonstrated its ability to manage illness outbreaks in a coordinated, strategic way that prioritizes the health of its students, families and staff. MPS has been monitoring COVID-19 closely over the last few months and meeting regularly to develop plans," MPS said. 

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MPS is in direct communication with the Department of Health and Hennepin County Epidemiology in advance of any outbreak. 

"In the coming days, we will be providing additional information laying out our plans," MPS said, providing this link to keep everyone abreast of the situation

Mary Langworthy, supervisor of student health and wellness at St. Paul Public Schools, says the state's second-largest district is sending out weekly coronavirus updates to public school nurses and health assistants. 

"We continue to monitor the situation and are prepared to appropriately respond if or when an outbreak occurs," Langworthy said, noting that general illness precautions like staying home when sick, covering coughs and sneezes are always good practices, especially during the cold and flu season. 

Similar strategies are in place at Minnesota's fourth-largest district, Osseo Area Schools

"Unfortunately, school districts like ours have needed to prepare for previous potential pandemics, including H1N1 and Ebola. Now it looks like COVID-19 is on the radar as a potential issue," said Barbara Olson, communications director for Osseo Area Schools. 

In the event of a coronavirus pandemic in Minnesota, Osseo leaders will take direction from the Department of Health, Department of Education and the CDC. A district-level team would also be created to "monitor the situation and plan for a coordinated response."

The Minnesota Department of Health has a dedicated link with information for schools, colleges and universities here. Anyone seeking information about their children's schools' preparedness plans can contact school officials. 

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