Alexandria Schools Remaining Open, Health Dept. Says COVID-19 Threat Low

Update at 12:15 p.m. — ACPS reversed its decision and announced that schools are closing starting Monday.

Earlier: Alexandria City Public Schools will remain open as school and health officials continue to monitor the coronavirus outbreak, as neighboring school systems are closing their doors.

“One of the biggest reasons why we’re not closing yet is… we have no known cases of the COVID-19 in Alexandria City Public Schools,” Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said on Thursday night during the city’s COVID-19 information session.

Hutchings added, “We also do not have a community spread of the coronavirus in the City of Alexandria. So, we follow the guidance of our health department as well as the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], and we have to rely heavily on them without having any guidance to say that our schools need to be closed, then we are remaining open with precautionary measures.”

Alexandria Health Director Dr. Stephen Haering said that there is only one known case in Alexandria, which has not experienced an outbreak. He also said that anyone who wants to be tested for the coronavirus should check with their primary care physician, and this is a fluid situation that could change.

“First of all, there’s a low risk in Alexandria that if you’re ill, that it’s actually from COVID- 19. It’s much more likely that it’s influenza, or that it is a cold, or it could be a bacteria, a sinus infection, or pneumonia or a strep throat,” Haering said. “There’s a very low risk in the community of getting this.”

There has been one presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in Alexandria after a resident has close contact with an infected Washington, D.C. resident who spent time at the Immanuel Chapel of the Virginia Theological Seminary.

A city spokesman told ALXnow that since the health department is not seeing community transmission — moving from one person to another without knowing where it came from — it is not necessary for low-risk individuals to be tested.

Inova Alexandria Hospital is implementing new restrictions on visitation, and hospital President Dr. Rina Bansal said that anyone who feels symptomatic should call their doctor, but that in serious cases to call ahead to warn emergency room staff.

“Coming into the emergency room is dangerous because you are exposing other people to an illness that is spreading easily,” Bansal said. “We really are only recommending that in the event that you’re critically ill or feeling unwell to the point that you cannot wait to call your primary care provider.”

Fairfax County closed schools Friday and cancelled all school trips and extracurricular activities. Loudoun County closed its schools from Thursday until March 20. Arlington Public Schools have cancelled or postponed non-essential events, schools in the District will be closed the remainder of the month starting March 16, and all public schools in Maryland are closing from March 16 through March 27.

Hutchings said that the situation is rapidly evolving and that the school system is prepared to close at any time. In the event of a closure, students will be sent home with Chromebook laptops starting today. He said that ACPS, also on Friday, will send home learning activity packets for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“If we are in a situation where we have to close our schools that we will be prepared to continue educational services for our students outside of the classroom,” Hutchings said.

As previously reported, ACPS is working on a contingency plan in the event of a closure, which includes food distribution to students on free and reduced lunch. If a closure does occur, the city’s Department of Community and Human Services would work with ACPS on a food distribution system, according to city spokesman Craig Fifer.

“In the event of a prolonged school closure, we would set up a distribution system, but the status of that system is based on the public health threat,” Fifer said. “There has been some limited distribution of food during extended snowstorms in the past, but I don’t believe we’ve ever had a city-wide distribution of food before.”

Additionally, water disconnects in the city will not be shut down due to nonpayment, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson tweeted on Friday morning.

Hutchings said that the school system recently bought an overstock of soap and will be requiring students to continually wash their hands. He added that a cleaning log will be kept in each classroom to show that they have been routinely sanitized by custodial staff.

“We were able to do an overstock order of supplies soap, in particular, at our schools,” Hutchings said. “We also provided additional hand sanitizer in our classrooms. Now we have hand wipes at all of our schools that were issued this week, just to have some additional ways of students cleaning their hands.”

COVID-19 Virtual Information Session

Posted by on Thursday, March 12, 2020