Amid mounting fears nationally about the spread of the new coronavirus and how it could affect schools, Chicago Public Schools says it will provide additional cleaning supplies and hand soap to its campuses and step up communication with parents and families about its guidelines for when to attend classes and when to stay home. 

“Student well-being and safety are the district’s highest priorities,” a spokeswoman, Emily Bolton, said Tuesday in a statement, “and CPS is working closely with [the city’s public health department] to finalize updated guidance for schools with more detailed information. We encourage all families, students and staff to refer to [the public health department] for the latest developments and stay home if they are feeling sick.” 

Beyond supplies, the district said it is giving its custodial contractors additional guidelines for keeping schools clean and asking them to check bathrooms daily to make sure hand soap is stocked. 

The virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another. It also can spread by people touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their mouth or nose.

Some Chicago educators took to social media to complain about shortages of hand soap and lack of school cleanliness, a lingering issue since the district privatized janitorial services. A Sun-Times investigation found filthy conditions in multiple schools and widespread failures to pass cleanliness audits.

Last week, officials from the Centers for Disease Control said that, in the event of identified cases, school districts should consider the possibility of e-learning should they close campuses. Remote learning could prove difficult for many districts, including Chicago, where a 2016 study showed wide gaps in home broadband use among neighborhoods.

Bolton said the district was still developing strategies to prepare for various scenarios and that leaders would look to city health officials for guidance.

A spokesman from the city’s largest charter network, Noble Network of Charter Schools, said remote learning was not currently under discussion there.

But some districts across the country are weighing the option should the number of COVID-19 cases rise. In Washington state, several districts closed schools this week.

As of Tuesday, Illinois had four confirmed cases with more than 100 other people being tested.  

It appears that children face less risk in contracting the illness. The CDC reports that most confirmed COVID-19 cases in China have occurred in adults, although some infections in children have been reported. This follows what has happened with other acute viral infections, such as SARS.

Still, for children, the CDC recommends the usual precautions: staying home when sick, cleaning hands often using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoiding people who are sick, and staying up to date on vaccinations, including the influenza vaccine.  

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