It’s business as usual, but with more hand sanitizer, in Salem-Keizer schools

Despite concern about new cases of the novel coronavirus in Oregon, Salem-Keizer School District officials say there’s no need to keep healthy kids home or close schools.

Oregon has three cases of the disease as of Monday afternoon, none in the Salem area. But the district has activated its communicable disease plan, which means more frequent cleanings at schools and notifying families of its 41,000 students about symptoms to watch out for and illness prevention tips.

The first Oregon case of the disease was identified Friday in a Lake Oswego elementary school employee. That district has closed Forest Hills Elementary School as a result.

None of Salem-Keizer’s over 5,000 employees are under monitoring for the novel coronavirus, district spokeswoman Lillian Govus said. Several recently attended a training with Lake Oswego school employees, she said, but the Oregon Health Authority determined they did not need to be monitored.

For now, it’s business as usual, but with a bit more hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

Schools have also relaxed their usual guidelines about which types of wipes and hand sanitizers are allowed. Any store-bought product can be brought to school, Govus said.

Under state law, schools can exclude students from school if they’re exhibiting signs or symptoms of contagious illness, including a fever over 100.5 degrees or difficulty breathing.

Administrators have emailed all district employees telling them to stay home if sick and detailing symptoms to watch out for in themselves and in students.

Salem-Keizer officials are updating the district’s communicable disease plan with specific steps for the novel coronavirus and expect to complete that by Monday.

Custodians are cleaning frequently touched spaces in schools, like doorknobs, more regularly, and are wiping down school bus seats.

If the disease comes to Salem, decisions about closing schools or other steps to prevent its spread would come from Oregon Health Authority, Govus said. To her knowledge, the district has never closed a school because of communicable disease.

Superintendent Christy Perry emailed parents Sunday night reminding them of steps to avoid the spread of illness, including proper handwashing.

The email also reminded parents of the district’s anti-bullying policy, following reports of anti-Asian bullying and violence around the U.S. related to the spread of the virus.

Govus said some district schools have heard from parents who are concerned about ethnically Chinese students attending school with their children.

“The worst offenders have been adults, not students,” she said.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.