PARK SLOPE — Catholic academies in the Diocese are taking precautions to protect students, teachers and staff from the coronavirus, which has killed 22 people in the United States, 19 of them in Washington state.
At the time of print, there were 148 reported confirmed cases of the virus in New York out of 729 nationwide. Symptoms of the virus are similar to the seasonal flu and include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
The diocese’s Office of the Superintendent of Schools is in communication with government officials and with the schools themselves in an effort to assure administrators, faculty and families that the diocese is trying its best to keep everyone safe.
Tom Chadzutko, the schools superintendent for the diocese, has required anyone returning from international travel to get written medical clearance from his or her doctor before going back to school.
That procedure follows travel guidelines that have been set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We were receiving many calls and concerns from principals, teachers, staff and students returning from traveling abroad, and parents were expressing concern of the outbreak,” said Joan McMaster, associate superintendent for principal and teacher personnel for the diocese.
Schools must be sanitized daily and they must remind everyone of basic cleanliness practices, she said.
“Cough into your elbow, use tissues and wash your hands as frequently as possible,” McMaster said.
Also, parents shouldn’t send their child to school if he or she is sick, the diocese said.
Meanwhile, St. John’s University, Jamaica, has suspended in-person classes in all its campuses, included its Rome campus, until further notice.
Italy has more than 9,000 cases of coronavirus, and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has put the country under a strict nationwide lockdown on March 9.
“In order to keep our campus healthy and safe, we ask all students and employees who are sick to stay home,” Brian Browne, a spokesman for St. John’s, said.
“Symptoms for the novel coronavirus are very similar to seasonal flu and include fever, cough and/or shortness of breath. Because it is cold and flu season, and this virus has similar symptoms, it is import-
ant to not make any assumptions and have any respiratory illness evaluated by a health-care provider.”
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state has recalled students who are studying in China, Italy, Japan, Iran and South Korea based on recommendations from the state’s Department of Health.
Jennifer Hernandez, principal at St. Leo’s Catholic Academy in Corona, said that the school has repeatedly reminded families to be extra cautious, sending bilingual letters home with students, and through the Remind app. It also has a nurse from the Department of Health who reminds students to keep clean and has hired a deep cleaning company to scrub through the campus, in addition to the regular daily custodial cleaning.
“We don’t want anyone to be alarmed or to scare anybody. I feel like people hear it on the news, and it all sounds very scary … but it doesn’t have to be, if people take the right measures,” Hernandez said.
“We tell the students wash hands, use hand sanitizer, cover your mouth. The teachers know to wipe down tables and furniture. Custodians clean the doors, staircase handles with cleaning, bleach and water, killing the pathogens.
“The more we educate people, the less . of a chance for our community to be affected. We want them to feel safe here, and educate them to know what to do to protect themselves as much as possible. We can’t prevent them, but we can take preventative measures.”
Hernandez said it’s scary to see the coronavirus hit so close to home. Two schools in Westchester County were closed for fears of infection, as has an Orthodox Jewish school in the Bronx. The most important thing, Hernandez said, is to have faith.
“We tell our students every morning to pray for those affected, and that it doesn’t spread. Be mindful. The closer it is to home, we have to be more careful,” she said.