Novel coronavirus: How to prepare for potential local outbreak


Kathy Fang

Browsing nearly empty shelves, a customer shops for surface wipes at Target in the Westgate Center. Stores like Target and Costco have been running low on hygiene products in the past week as local residents stock up on essential supplies to prepare for a potential COVID-19 outbreak.

With the rise of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in Santa Clara County last week, as well as the report of the first possible case of community spread in the U.S. in California last Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health agencies encourage residents to start preparations for a potential local outbreak of the virus.

Here’s what you need to know in order to prepare.

What is the school’s plan in case of a local outbreak of COVID-19?

Nott emailed all Harker families with information on the school’s plan in case of a local outbreak of COVID-19. According to Nott, the school’s experience with the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 has established a protocol for activity cancellation, school closure and teleschooling. 

“Cancelling activities will certainly impact our program, but we will follow the directions of the health department and CDC to do what is necessary to keep the students and staff healthy and safe,” Nott wrote in the email.

Among all upcoming school trips, only the art and anatomy trip to Italy, which had been planned for spring break, has been rescheduled. The upcoming journalism trip to New York City and the orchestra trip to New York City during spring break will currently proceed as planned.

Science department chair Anita Chetty, who is one of the teachers leading this trip, says that she and trip organizers are looking at possibly moving the trip to May 26 through June 5. The finalized plan will be announced next week.

Is there a cure or vaccine?

The CDC has also updated its criteria for COVID-19 tests. All patients with a fever and severe acute lower respiratory illness without another diagnosis, such as influenza, should be tested for COVID-19.

Currently, there is no vaccine for COVID-19 and no medication proven to treat it. The CDC reports that all care for patients diagnosed with COVID-19 is supportive.

Kathy Fang
A customer wearing a mask looks for packs of toilet paper at the Target in Westgate Center. Target and other stores like Costco and CVS have run low on supplies like toilet paper, surface wipes and hand sanitizer following reports of community spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in California.

How do we prevent against COVID-19?

In terms of preventive measures, the CDC recommends avoiding close contact with infected people, not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, staying home when you are sick, covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue, regularly disinfecting surfaces, washing your hands thoroughly, and wearing a face mask if you are sick. 

Upper school biology teacher Anita Chetty strongly emphasizes washing hands as a protective measure and encourages people to adopt that into their regular everyday routines to prevent any threats to their health, even in the future.

“There is always something that is going to cause disease amongst our population or other living things. Wash your hands: that’s a habit that needs to be developed and it just becomes a part of what you do,” Chetty said. 

Dr. Messonnier advises non-pharmaceutical interventions, or NPIs, as the “the most important tools in our response to this virus.” NPIs include three categories of preventative measures: personal, community and environment. 

Personal measures include similar measures as influenza prevention, such as staying home when sick, covering coughs, washing hands and voluntary home quarantine. Community measures include social distancing, school closures or dismissal and, in the case of a severe pandemic, replacing physical meetings with telecommunication options. Environment measures include consistent surface cleaning, modifying or postponing large scale gatherings and possibly increasing telehealth services or delaying elective surgery. 

“We recognize that implementing NPIs at this level will be disruptive to people’s day to day lives, and we really want to prepare the American public for the possibility that their lives will be disrupted because of this pandemic,” Dr. Messonnier said in Tuesday’s telebriefing.

What other administrative actions are local and federal government agencies taking?

The U.S. State Department has issued travel advisories to Macau, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Mongolia and South Korea, and a travel restriction on China and Iran as of March 2. According to Dr. Messonnier, the U.S. State Department and Department of Health and Human Services are working to implement an aggressive containment strategy that detects, tracks and isolates all cases and prevents more introduction of the disease, especially at points of entry. 

Last Tuesday, San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency in the city, citing the high volume of travel between San Francisco and China as a basis for taking precautions. There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in San Francisco.

Despite cutting funding for the CDC in the 2020 fiscal budget, President Donald Trump and his administration have requested an allocation of 1.25 billion dollars of emergency dollars to bolster response efforts towards the coronavirus outbreak. The administration also requested that Congress reappropriate 535 million dollars from the emergency supplemental funding originally allocated for Ebola prevention, bringing the total amount of requested funding towards response efforts to 1.8 billion.

What other factors should we be thinking about?

According to the CDC, residents across the U.S. are encouraged to start preparing for the possibility that community spread does occur.

Kathy Fang
An empty shelf that used to hold disinfectant wipes at the Westgate location of Target.

The CDC suggests considering stocking up on essential supplies, forming emergency plans in case public transport is no longer advised and working out teleschooling, teleworking and telehealth options.

Currently, local stores like Target and Costco are running low on stock for hygiene supplies, such as hand sanitizer, surface wipes and toilet paper, as well as dry foods like rice and canned soup. According to employees at the Target in Westgate Center, Saratoga, Target is still relying on normal shipments of supplies, which arrive at the store once a week.

Upper school biology teacher Dr. Kate Schafer emphasizes the COVID-19 outbreak as one to learn from to mitigate similar events in the future. 

“Coronavirus is something that’s come out of nowhere. I think we’re afraid of [coronavirus because it] seems to be unique. [Hopefully] we learn some valuable lessons from this about how to prevent future events like this from happening,” Dr. Schafer said.