A teacher from Watertown High School who had recently traveled abroad, was sent home as a precaution measure after the possibility of having been exposed to the COVID-19 “Coronavirus,” the Watertown Public Schools announced.
Watertown Superintendent Dede Galdston said the measure was taken out to be cautious, and was in line with recommendations by local, state and federal health officials. She also talked about a planned WHS trip to Europe during spring break.
School officials said there has not been a confirmed case of the Coronavirus in the Watertown Public Schools, however, there is a staff member who went home just in case the person was exposed to the virus.
“I can confirm there are no known or suspected cases of Coronavirus in Watertown,” said Galdston, who said she could not comment specifically about the case, or even if the person had been tested, due to federal HIPAA regulations protecting people’s medical records.
She added, “The decision was probably overly precautious. I would rather take precaution and ensure safety rather to presume everything is fine.”
When the staff member came forward, School officials alerted the Watertown Health Department and the Mass. Department of Public Health about the situation, and Galdston said the district will follow their recommendations.
“We were advised by both WDH and MDPH that there are no confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Watertown and our schools should remain open. If that changes, the Massachusetts DPH and the Watertown Department of Health will work with us to determine the next steps,” Galdston’s letter reads.
The staff member alerted a school nurse at the high school about a recent trip aboard after School officials asked all staff and students to report that they had traveled overseas in the prior 14 days. On March 4, Galdston sent home a letter that said, in part:
“(A) Watertown High School staff member who traveled abroad over February break went to the Watertown High School nurse this morning prior to the start of classes based on the criteria set forth by the Watertown Department of Health. The employee was sent home as a precautionary measure. At this time, there is no indication that the staff member has the novel Coronavirus.”
Spring Break Trip
The concerns about Coronavirus cases in Europe has put in doubt a planned trip by a group of about 60 WHS students to Germany, the Czech Republic and Hungary. The school sponsored trip would take place over spring break in April, but Galdston said indications from state officials make it unlikely it will take place.
“Based on the advisory released by the governor, student travel abroad is being discouraged,” Galdston said.
No decision has been made, but Galdston said it will likely be determined by Tuesday, March 10, because the trip must be cancelled by March 16 to get a refund. They may look to postpone the trip to a time when the Coronavirus is not a concern.
“We want to make sure they have the opportunity to travel later, given that traveling in April is unlikely,” Galdston said.
The Watertown Health Department released information for people returning to the United States from countries where large numbers of Coronavirus cases have been reported. Part of the statement reads:
Travel Guidelines and restrictions.
Level 3 Countries (China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea)
Upon entry into the US only China and Iran travelers are reported to MDPH and Local Boards of Health (LBOH) and asked to self-quarantine for 14 days with Health Department supervision. Travelers from Italy and South Korea are asked to self-quarantine and monitor for symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19, but are not reported to MDPH or LBOH.
Level 2 countries (Japan)
Upon entry to the US, travelers are asked to limit contact with others and to self-monitor for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 for 14 days and are not reported to DPH or LBOH.
While some travelers may have returned from Level 3 countries prior to the new restrictions went into effect, the Watertown Health Department request that any international traveler regardless of country of origin to take daily temperatures for two weeks and monitor for symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19 and as long as they are asymptomatic continue business as usual. If symptoms develop please contact your primary care physician (PCP) and report symptoms and international travel history prior to visiting the clinic.
Read the entire statement, and previous updates from the Watertown Health Department by clicking here.
Steps Being Taken
The district is providing updates on the Coronavirus on its website. The updates can be seen by clicking here.
The Watertown Public Schools sent out the following recommendations:
The Watertown Health Department advises that any Watertown public school staff members and or students who have traveled internationally should check their temperature daily and if any of the following symptoms — Fever with Cough/Sneezing and/or Shortness of Breath — they should stay at home until symptoms are resolved. Additionally, they should report their illness to their Primary Care Physician (PCP). Notification to their PCP should include symptoms and travel history.
We also request that if a staff member or student has traveled outside of the country that they inform the school nurse. We have yet to have a confirmed case of COVID-19 in this area or in our schools, but we continue to monitor the situation closely in Watertown while focusing on prevention.
School officials said they are taking actions to try to prevent any possible exposure to the virus:
We are continuing to follow our regular cleaning and disinfection program, which includes:
- Cleaning desks, tables, countertops, sinks, and other hard surfaces.
- Cleaning and disinfecting door handles, faucets, railings, and other frequently touched surfaces
- Cleaning and disinfecting bathrooms and health rooms
- Using EPA-approved disinfectant to clean high-touch surfaces and patient care areas
- Cleaning surfaces first to remove all organic matter. Thorough cleaning with soap and water or a multi-purpose cleaner removes most microorganisms.
- Using disinfectants in a safe and effective manner to clean up potentially infectious materials and body fluid spills
- Washing and disinfecting bathroom fixtures, floors, and touchpoints daily with a neutral disinfectant cleaner
The Mass. Department of Public Health released information saying that the precautions already taken to protect against colds and the flu also help protect against COVID-19. These precautions include:
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and, if unable to wash, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth
- Cover coughs and/ or sneezes with a tissue or sleeve (not hands)
- Avoid people who are sick and stay home/ keep children home when sick