With the rise of reported COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases in the U.S., local decision-makers are making preparations and advising precautions for St. Charles Parish residents.
St. Charles Parish director of communications Samantha de Castro said that while no drastic changes to protocol have been made, representatives of the parish’s government administration, public schools, medical personnel and Sheriff’s Office have met and kept in communication to ensure the parish is ready were that to change.
“It’s been a team effort to make sure we’re all on the same page about coronavirus, and we’re prepared to handle the situation should it become an issue for our area,” de Castro said. “We’re working in concert with the Governor’s office and doing whatever is required.”
She said the parish is promoting healthy habits known to curtail the risk of spreading illness, like washing hands regularly and limiting physical contact like handshakes.
But likewise, de Castro noted that risk at the current time is low in the area. No cases in the parish have been reported, though the state’s first case of a potential positive test was announced Monday by Governor John Bel Edwards. De Castro said caution is appropriate, but there’s no need to panic.
Stevie Crovetto, St. Charles Parish Public Schools spokeswoman, echoed de Castro’s thoughts on reinforcing preventive safety measures, while also communicating with employees and parents on what the school system is doing to minimize the possibility of an outbreak.
She said one precaution the district is taking is gathering pertinent travel information from employees and students in order to be proactive in preventing the spread of communicable disease.
If families have plans to travel to any of the Level 3 Warning High-Risk Countries identified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), they are required to report this information to school administration prior to the travel. Crovetto said at this time, those countries are China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. Only travel to these four Level 3 countries before the end of the school year (May 22) must be reported to school administration.
“We recognize that families have travel plans with the upcoming Easter/Spring Break holiday. The gathering of this information is out of an abundance of caution,” Crovetto said.
She said that parish schools continue to be supplied with hand sanitizers, hand soap and tissues, and that best practices have been shared with students, employees and parents/guardians on how to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases.
“Our custodial staff has increased their sanitation efforts by applying disinfectant in high traffic areas and at key touch points throughout our schools and buildings,” Crovetto said.
Among the points the district has stressed to its students, parents and employees are reminders to:
*Wash hands regularly, especially after using the restroom and before preparing or consuming food. Use soap and hot water, wash for about 20 seconds. Be sure to also wash your fingertips.
*Avoid coughing or sneezing into your hands or in the air. Always try to cough or sneeze into a tissue, and then throw the tissue away. If you don’t have a tissue, cough/sneeze into your arm.
*As much as you can, avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose.
*If children are feeling sick, please keep them home from school. Allow them some time to feel better so that they do not risk infecting others.
*Please remember that if children are sick, they should not be at school. Students need to be fever-free for 24 hours before returning to class after any illness. Keeping children home when they are sick is critical to prevention.
Crovetto said the decisions were made out of a desire to be as prepared as possible for a potential outbreak, but also noted that there have only been a small number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the United States and , like de Castro, added that there have been no confirmed cases in St. Charles Parish.
“Preparation is key,” Crovetto said. “We have a plan in place, and many of the preventative measures and best practices are common and taken on a yearly basis for prevention of the flu. Health and government officials have continued to state that the risk remains low to most Americans. We are closely monitoring the situation and taking guidance from the Louisiana Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
St. Charles Parish Hospital and Ochsner Health representatives note that similar to the flu, there are several strains of the coronavirus which cause the common cold, but that this does not mean someone has the COVID-19 coronavirus strain associated with the current respiratory disease outbreak being discussed in the news. Common cold coronaviruses do not require extra isolation precautions, according to the hospital.
A systemwide protocol is in place at each of the hospital’s facilities for the screening and isolation of any patient suspected of having COVID-19.
“This is a rapidly changing public health situation and rest assured that we work closely with the Louisiana Office of Public Health (OPH) and follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, guidelines to ensure our employees and patients are receiving the latest information,” the hospital noted through a statement issued Tuesday. “If a case is suspected or identified, we will implement all appropriate isolation and protective measures outlined by the CDC and follow their guidelines for hospital personnel and visitors.
“Additionally, the hospital will immediately notify the proper parties, including the Louisiana State Epidemiologist, OPH and the CDC in such a case. We are currently going through OPH for all COVID-19 testing. We will continue to monitor as commercial testing becomes available in the next few weeks. If a case is suspected or identified, we will implement all appropriate isolation and protective measures outlined by the CDC and follow their guidelines for hospital personnel and visitors.”