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Schools around West Michigan prepare for COVID-19

"The last thing we’re going to do is panic," says Dr Michael Shibler, Superintendent of Rockford Schools
Posted at 4:54 PM, Mar 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-02 17:20:10-05

ROCKFORD, Mich. — Schools around West Michigan are working to stay ahead of the COVID-19 virus after health officials said last week that an outbreak in the United States was inevitable.

While there has still yet to be a confirmed case of the virus identified in Michigan, there are currently a handful of people being monitored in Kent County.

The Kent County Health Department is currently monitoring 7 individuals because of their recent travel history. This is just a precaution as none of them have shown any concerning symptoms. Once they make it past 14 days without showing any, they are no longer monitored. The county previously had another 8 people under watch. None of them showed any symptoms either and have since cleared the 14 day window.

Up in Rockford Superintendent Dr Michael Shibler is working tirelessly to make sure the district is ready in the event of a large-scale outbreak in West Michigan.

"The last thing we’re going to do is panic," Dr Shibler told FOX 17 Monday, "There is correct protocols we follow to make sure our 8,000 students safe, our 1000 employees safe and the thousands of people who visit our facilities all the time."

Dr Shibler says consistent communication to staff and students is critical in a situation like this.

“Today I sent out a blast email to all families and all staff, basically telling them here's what we’re doing and we’ll be consistent about that,” Dr Shibler said. "We certainly need and ask for and appreciate the precautions that are taken at home by families and so forth to make sure their kids are safe and healthy. And if a child is sick, please, they need to stay at home."

Dr Shibler says he is making his decisions based on the latest recommendations from the Kent County Health Department and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

"You want people to just take precautions to wash their hands all the time, not putting themselves directly in contact with people that are ill or sick and so forth. But we also do a lot of other things where we try to keep our students and staff and community safe," Dr Shibler said.

Beyond just maintaining good hand hygiene and avoiding others when you're sick, the district is making extra efforts to keep their buildings as clean as possible.

If a district principal notices a high concentration of students or staff feeling ill in a certain building or classroom, they can bring in one of their new 'Clorox 360' machines.

"We have several of these that are available that put out a spray, a mist, and they will literally not only cover the tops of desks but the bottoms of desks as well, door knobs and other areas of the classroom that could attract germs," Dr Shibler said.

According to Dr Adam London, Director of the Kent County Health Department, our best defense against a potential outbreak is maintaining these good hygiene habits.

"This can spread through respiratory mechanisms. So droplets usually associated with coughing or sneezing. So, venues like a school, like any sort of large gathering place, are places that could be linked to more transmission if and when we start seeing cases locally," Dr London told FOX 17 Monday.

He says disinfecting areas that are commonly touched by multiple people is good practice to stop viruses from spreading, saying, "I wish we had a silver bullet for this right now. We don’t have enough tests, we don’t have a therapy at this time and we don’t have a vaccine at this time. So in the meantime what we need to do is put into practice the things we know work so well at controlling the spread of other respiratory viruses."