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Idaho school districts plan for the worst for possible novel coronavirus outbreak

Districts like West Ada and Boise have a pandemic-flu plan. It calls for isolating, cleaning, and possibly closing schools.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — School districts across Idaho are planning for the worst when it comes to containing an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

The disease first started in Wuhan, China. However, there are now 14 confirmed cases in the United States according to the CDC.

There are no cases in Idaho currently. Chances are still low of an outbreak in the country, but the CDC is saying, it’s not if one happens, but when.

“We still consider the risk of getting coronavirus pretty low for most Idahoans,” Deputy State Epidemiologist Kathryn Turner said.

Even with a low risk, districts like West Ada and Boise plan for the worst. First off, schools are always trying to educate people to wash hands, cough into their sleeve and stay home when they're sick. Turner calls this respiratory etiquette.

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Then the school district, like West Ada, has a pandemic-flu plan. This is in place if a student or teacher or anyone else gets the novel coronavirus.

“They would obviously be excluded from attendance to school,” West Ada Spokesperson Eric Exline said. “Then you would have to monitor all the other kids they were directly in contact.”

This means checking their schedules and trying to find who else could have the disease. This is not an easy thing to do, according to Exline.

“Obviously I'm hoping we don't ever get to that point here in Meridian, Idaho or the West Ada School district,” he said.

West Ada would work with state and federal departments to execute the plan. Departments like Idaho Health and Welfare and the CDC would help if the disease was in a school.

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“You can't be too prepared,” Turner said. “We do encourage all agencies and businesses that are concerned to have in place a plan for what would happen if this virus becomes more widespread.”

Closing a school is part of the plan. There are many factors that go into making this decision and its mostly left up to the district to make that decision.

“What's the rate its being transmitted? Right, so if this is spreading quickly then you're going to close more quickly.” Exline said. “We would just have to work through the process if we ever got to the point where we had to exclude students and then lead to a school potentially closing.”

On Thursday, the Boise School District sent an email to parents saying the district has a plan in place to keep students and staff safe in the event of a coronavirus outbreak in Idaho.

"When it comes to the novel coronavirus, we want to reassure you that the Boise School District has a plan in place to keep our students and staff as safe as possible," the email reads. "We are working proactively and following the recommendations and guidelines of Central District Health (CDH).  In the event of a local outbreak, we will follow our Communicable Diseases Policies: #3430 and #3431, as well as the District's pandemic illness plan."

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At this time, there are no cases in Idaho, so Health and Welfare said the best thing to do is not panic.

“Live your normal life, use your respiratory etiquette,” Turner said. “What I would say is you're more likely to get influenza right now than this novel coronavirus.”

The state continues to monitor this disease. If someone flies back to Idaho from China, that person gets called by their local health district.

They talk to them about their stay in China and how long they were there. They also talk to them about the symptoms and warning signs and tell them what to do if they get a cough or a fever.

Health and Welfare also has info on their website. They show how many people they’ve tested for the disease, and how many people they’re monitoring.

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