The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Cathlamet schools make covid-19 plans


March 12, 2020

Sanitization efforts have increased and there is a big focus on hand-washing, but officials are otherwise trying to keep things normal for students at local schools, as they prepare for a possible threat of COVID-19.

It’s business as usual for staff at St. James Family Center: Every flu season, they add an extra sanitization of door knobs and railings, and other often touched surfaces each day.

But Director Beth Hansen admits, with the threat of the coronavirus or COVID-19, for the past three weeks, staff have been sanitizing twice a day on top of the regular cleaning done at the center.

The good news is, they haven’t seen a recent drop in attendance, in fact, it seems to be improving after the last round of colds and flus that sent students and some staff home this winter.

But they are making changes to the calendar as needed. A parents’ meeting was canceled last week, and the center is still debating whether or not to hold the next one.

And yes, they are washing hands like crazy.

There are strict hand washing procedures for licensing, and the center requires parents make sure children wash their hands when they enter the building. In the past, the center may have been a little lax, but now they are more stringent.

Last week, the youngsters had a lesson on how to wash their hands, Hansen said. The kids must use soap and water, but there is hand sanitizer for adults.

They have been receiving lots of information from state agencies, mostly about the basics, washing hands and covering coughs.

And if they are required to close their doors for a time, they will be allowed to apply for waivers for attendance, because they like the school district, are required to be open a certain number of days.

"We started talking about this weeks ago,” Wahkiakum School District Superintendent Brent Freeman said.

The school district has been coordinating with several agencies, including OSPI and Wahkiakum Health and Human Services.

Earlier this year, Freeman contacted a specialist at HHS to review the best products and practices to keep the facilities sanitized. They have been sanitizing door knobs, desks, water fountains, chairs, and more with a product they have determined to be safe, Envirox H2 Orange 117.

“The virus is transmitted by and large by touch,” Freeman said.

The facilities are getting cleaned, but custodial staff is more focused on sanitization. They took advantage of the mid-winter break to sanitize the buildings, and a deep clean and more sanitization is planned over Spring Break.

By and large, the school has been open for student use for long hours, but they are now implementing a new policy to close the doors at the K-8 buildings at 6 p.m., and the doors at the high school at 7 p.m., in order to allow custodial staff to sanitize the building each day.

“They have been doing a great job,” Freeman said.

The buses are being cleaned twice a day by bus drivers.

The students may or may not be thinking about how frequently the school is being sanitized, but they’ve been adjusting as well. The elbow bump has become the new greeting, and they have all had lessons on proper hand washing.

Any student with a temperature of 99.5 degrees is being sent home.

The district is keeping a close eye on absenteeism, checking in with parents to document symptoms.

As for events that require travel outside of the district, they will follow the guidance of the host organization or guidance from public officials. One field trip was recently canceled, but some students traveled to Olympia this week for another outing—and yes, there was a lot of talk about hand washing.

“We want to balance educational opportunity with what’s going on,” Freeman said. “We can’t stop living.”

Practices for spring sports started this week and other extracurricular activities will continue.

Wahkiakum School District is prepared to suspend classes for short or long term if COVID-19 is found in the school, Freeman noted. It is unlikely that students would have to make up time in the classroom at the end of the school year, as the state will be offering waivers.

“We are creating contingency plans should the situation in Southwest Washington and in our district dramatically change,” a letter to parents said. “If the COVID-19 illness spreads more broadly, we will follow the guidance and recommendations of public health officials and share this information with staff and families as quickly as possible.”

“Let’s not panic,” Freeman said. “Let’s do what we can. Sanitize and wash our hands.”


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