Bay Area Schools Prepare for Possible Spread of Coronavirus

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'We don't want to alarm parents and there are no cases right now in our district,' said Alama Estrada, office manager for Mira Vista Elementary in Richmond. (Julia McEvoy/KQED)

As the nation's second case of community transmission of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) was confirmed Friday in the Bay Area, health officials have warned some of the region's school districts to take precautions.

While they say the risk to the public remains low, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned the Fairfield-Suisun and Travis unified school districts in Solano County to prepare for a possible outbreak of COVID-19. The warning came following news that a Solano County woman had tested positive for COVID-19 this week, representing the first community-level transmission of the disease in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Palo Alto Unified School District on Friday said a parent of two students may have been exposed to COVID-19. In a message to parents, Superintendent Don Austin wrote that the district took immediate action, sending the two students home and excluding them from attending school until the district gets more information.

News of new cases of COVID-19 in the Bay Area have stoked fears and uncertainty among some parents.

"It's kind of scary," said Ricardo Sanchez, the father of fifth-grader at Mira Vista Elementary school in Richmond. "Now they say it’s in Solano County and a lot of parents they are actually kind of worried because we don’t know if we have to stay with our children at home or what’s going to happen."

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Like other districts, the West Contra Costa School District has sent out a notice to staff letting them know they are monitoring the spread of the virus and working on protocols should a case surface within the school community. Mira Vista has held off on notifying parents since there are no confirmed cases in the district.

"We are holding off right now, because we don't want to alarm parents and there are no cases right now in our district," said Alma Estrada, Mira Vista's office manager. "We don't want our parents to panic."

In San Francisco and Berkeley, school districts are notifying parents as to how they plan to monitor the virus. In Sonoma County, the superintendent of schools is communicating with districts there to let them know they're working with health officials and local government on establishing protocols.

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in any of these districts.

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In Richmond, Sanchez said he has heard some other parents talking about homeschooling their children. But Sanchez, who said he works as a server in an Oakland restaurant, wonders how he could afford it.

"We don't know what to do, because we still have to work and do a lot of things. My mother-in-law can help us, but we need to work to pay our bills and rent. We maybe can survive for two or three months but after that we are not going to have enough money," Sanchez said.

Sanchez is further worried about what happens if people stop eating out. He's noticed business at his restaurant has slowed already, and he thinks it is out of people's concerns about the virus. "Some people they don't want to get contagious with anything right now."

"I think we as adults can handle this," Sanchez said. "I'm worried about the kids."

All Bay Area districts contacted by KQED said they are working in coordination with the California Department of Public Health, which is reminding parents, students and staff to frequently wash their hands, cover their nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and stay home if they are sick, to try and prevent contracting or spreading the virus.

"We want to assure you that FSUSD is taking precautions to keep our school sites disinfected and clean," officials wrote on the district's website. "Please keep in mind that this is a virus, and it is not specific to any single race or ethnicity. It is important to speak with your children about cultural sensitivity during this challenging time."