Kodiak Island Borough School District will evaluate its pandemic procedures due to the threat presented by the coronavirus, according to Superintendent Larry LeDoux.
“We’re trying to put a complete framework in place,” LeDoux said during a board of education meeting on Monday. “We haven’t pushed the panic button, we just wanted to let you know that we’re looking at a pandemic in the worst case-scenario.”
The World Health Organization defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease.
The district predicts that if the coronavirus reaches the island, “Kodiak will not be able to rely on timely State or Federal assistance to support local pandemic flu response efforts.” The existing pandemic plan also notes that doctors are not likely to arrive on the island to treat patients, nor will patients be transported to medical facilities off-island.
“Pandemics grow exponentially. Once this takes effect like I think it might, it could happen faster than people think,” LeDoux said, calling the district policies “a bit vague.”
“We’re going to be developing pandemic flu plans for our buildings,” he said. “We don’t want to be caught by surprise.”
The district has 2,000 facemasks in stock, which can help prevent person-to-person transmission. LeDoux also said that if the virus reaches the island, the number of sick people requiring medical care may overwhelm the local healthcare system and may require schools to close.
“We would have to either close completely or find another way to educate children,” LeDoux said.
LeDoux said the district is equipped with multiple online platforms that could be used to facilitate distance learning if the schools have to close. However, he said that not all teachers are trained in how to use the online platforms.
“The challenge is, not everybody has internet,” he said, adding that the district would have to subsidize internet service for families that can’t afford it.
According to the World Health Organization, 20,630 cases of people infected with the coronavirus were confirmed globally as of Tuesday morning. The vast majority are in China, where 425 people have died from the virus. Outside of China, 159 cases have been confirmed in 23 countries, including 11 cases in the U.S.
While no cases have been identified thus far in Alaska, LeDoux said it’s important to be prepared in advance in case the virus does force a school shut-down in Kodiak.
“To put something like this in place takes time,” he said. “With the amount of time we would have to put this in place, it would be expensive. We would be very focused and we would have to pretty much drop everything else.”
Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center is well-prepared for patients with infectious diseases, such as coronavirus, according to Carlie Franz, a Providence communications specialist.
“We currently have a screening tool in our electronic medical records system that prompts members of admitting staff to ask a series of questions of all patients checking in to outpatient clinics and the Emergency Department. These questions cover travel history, exposure to those who may have had the virus and any symptoms the patient may be experiencing,” Franz wrote in a statement. In the event that the patient does not pass the screen, they would be masked and placed in a negative pressure room, called an isolation room.
“These rooms are designed so that contaminants in the air cannot leave the room and travel to other areas. Our next immediate step would be to contact the department of public health per Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Public health would then conduct an investigation of those potentially exposed to the patient outside of the hospital,” Franz added.
In addition to negative pressure rooms, the hospital is equipped with personal protective equipment, special clothing and masks that prevent the spread of infection from the patient to the caregivers.
Franz noted that even if patients do not pass the screening, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are infected with the virus. Further testing would be necessary to diagnose the patient.
“We are very confident in our ability to care for highly-infectious patients,” she said.
RRECAUTIONS AGAINST CORONAVIRUS
The World Health Organization recommends taking multiple precautions to minimize the risk of contracting coronavirus and other infectious diseases:
Wash your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue. Discard tissue immediately into a closed bin and clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Maintain at least 3 feet between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever.
Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early. Tell your health care provider if you have traveled in China, or if you have been in close contact with someone with who has traveled from China and has respiratory symptoms.
If you have mild respiratory symptoms and no travel history to or within China, carefully practice basic respiratory and hand hygiene and stay home until you are recovered, if possible.