What happens if a student, staff member gets sick with coronavirus and has been at school?

We're working for you to get answers as your families return to the classroom

ROANOKE, Va. – Many of you are asking “What happens if a student gets sick with Coronavirus and has been at school?” as you get ready to send your kids back next month.

Schools are supposed to have a plan for this, but many don’t.

10 News reached out to the Virginia Department of Health.

“I have read some of the plans which leave out lots of important details. For instance, instead of describing the plan for dealing with sick kids or staff, they say one will be developed,” said Dr. Molly O’Dell with the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts.

We also reached out to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), who points to CDC guidance that’s pretty straightforward.

“If an individual answers ‘Yes’ to any of the screening questions at or before arriving at school, they should stay home and not enter the building. If a student or employee experiences symptoms of COVID-19 while at school, move the individual out of the classroom or group setting, isolate in a predetermined location, and inform the school nurse or school health staff member. School health staff must wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including N-95 face mask or surgical face mask, goggles and gloves before entering into the room to evaluate the individual. Call the parent or family member of the employee to pick up and take home for 14 days of self-quarantine before returning to school. If symptoms persist or worsen they should contact their healthcare provider,” says the latest guidance from the VDOE’s website.

If a case is confirmed and that person has been at school administrators and health officials should coordinate.

Then, schools should dismiss students and most staff for 2-5 days. The CDC says this allows time for the local health officials to gain a better understanding of the situation including if more time out of school is needed to stop or slow the further spread of COVID-19.

The question then becomes should just that school close or the entire school system. The CDC says that decision will be made on a case-by-case basis using the most up-to-date information about COVID and cases in the community.

Of course, schools will also have to clean and disinfect thoroughly. According to the CDC, there are some guidelines around that as well:

  • Close off areas used by the individuals with COVID-19 and wait as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection to minimize potential for exposure to respiratory droplets. Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area. If possible, wait up to 24 hours before beginning cleaning and disinfection.
  • Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas (e.g., offices, bathrooms, and common areas) used by the ill persons, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces.
  • If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
  • For disinfection, most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.

This is part of an ongoing in-depth 10 News series looking into reopening schools in Virginia. Jenna Zibton is working for you, investigating many different angles of what the changes and challenges mean for families, staff, and the community. Contact Jenna if you have questions by email or on Facebook.

About the Author:

You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m. She also leads our monthly Solutionaries Series, where we highlight the creative thinkers and doers working to make the world a better place.