The ongoing public health crisis surrounding the spread of COVID-19, or the coronavirus, is still fairly isolated in the U.S., with a few places reporting cases and a handful of deaths reported in the nation so far.

But public health officials warn the disease could spread and it’s got many communities doing preparatory work in the worst-case scenario of an outbreak in their area.

In Walton County, one of the most likely places for a pandemic to take hold is in local schools, which already operate as petri dishes for normal illnesses such as colds, stomach viruses and other minor diseases. The same risk factors that can see a basic cold sweep through hundreds of students could also encourage the spread of a far deadlier disease such as coronavirus, which has school officials planning ahead to curtail any disasters before they can happen.

The Walton County School District is the largest school system in the county, serving more than 14,000 students, which makes such prep work essential.

“As with any illness, we continue to follow universal precautions including routine environmental cleaning,” a statement issued by the district read. “We encourage our students, teachers and families to use proper respiratory etiquette and wash their hands often. Students and staff members who are sick are also encouraged to stay home.

“In regards to COVID-19 (coronavirus), we are continually coordinating with state and local health authorities so that we have timely and accurate information.”

Social Circle City Schools issued a similar statement, reporting the district’s existing illness policy will be applied if symptoms are observed.

“The school district has an illness policy which includes contacting parents to come to the school to pick up their children immediately if they are exhibiting vomiting, diarrhea or fever,” the statement reads. “This policy was adopted to help reduce the transmission of all illnesses.

“Parents should continue to keep sick children at home. District leaders will also maintain contact with EMA authorities, local public health and district public health authorities, and will respond promptly to any directions and protocols they may provide as it pertains to coronavirus disease 2019.”

The virus risk is not stopped by the divide between public and private schools, so local private academies are also developing approaches in the scenario the disease appears in Walton County.

Loganville Christian Academy officials said work is being done to address the risk of coronavirus.

“We are aware of the statement that the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has made,” a statement read. “We have plans in place and have been working with an LCA parents who works for the CDC to tweak our protocol for the coronavirus.”

George Walton Academy is doing the same.

“Over the past few years, we have learned many lessons from the flu and have implemented numerous measures to help decrease the spread of illness,” GWA officials said in a prepared statement. “We have policies in place to instruct parents when to keep children who are exhibiting symptoms home from school. We are proactive in our sanitation procedures and have Increased awareness and improved signage throughout campus to promote good hygiene practices.”

GWA officials also said infrastructure is in place to keep school going for students who can’t come to campus.

“We have an advantage in that we already have procedures in place to continue to serve our students through digital days,” it said. “When necessary, we are able to continue instruction without missing a beat. If our school’s registered nurses detect a trend in sickness and determine that it would be better for our students to stay home to help cut down on the spread of illness, our teachers are trained and equipped to provide lessons and assignments digitally. We have effectively utilized these digital days several times over the past few years and we are ready in the event we need to do so again.”

News Editor

Stephen Milligan is the news editor of The Walton Tribune. He lives in Monroe and is a graduate of the University of Georgia.

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