Update with resources: Area schools set up alternative meal plans for students during COVID-19 closures
RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has ordered all K-12 schools in the commonwealth to be closed for a minimum of two weeks due to the coronavirus.
30 people had tested positive for the virus in Virginia as of noon Friday, including 9 in Hampton Roads.
The closure will be in place from Monday, March 16, to Friday, March 27.
“We are taking this action to keep Virginians as safe and healthy as possible, and to minimize exposure to COVID-19,” said Governor Northam. “I recognize this will pose a hardship on many families, but closing our schools for two weeks will not only give our staff time to clean and disinfect school facilities, it will help slow the spread of this virus. This is a fluid and fast-changing situation. We will do everything possible to ensure that students who rely on school nutrition programs continue to have access to meals, and that the disruption to academics is as minimal as possible.”
In a press release, Northam’s office said state officials are working to ensure students who qualify who free or reduced lunch will be able to utilize the programs while schools are closed.
In Portsmouth, crews spent much of Friday afternoon disinfecting buses after students completed their last day of school for the next two weeks.
The children who sat on the 133 Portsmouth school buses had been delivered to their homes at the end of the school day, but the work wasn’t done in the Churchland High School bus parking lot.
Due to the coronavirus scare, crews were out disinfecting the entire interior of each bus.
Three schools will serve breakfast and lunches to children during this time period of canceled school.
Breakfast is from 8-9 a.m. and lunch is from noon to 1 p.m., according to the city. The distribution centers for the meals will be at I.C. Norcom High, Churchland Middle, and Woodrow Wilson High School.
It’s under the supervision of Dr. Jerry Simmons, who is the Portsmouth Public Schools director of auxiliary services.
“We have our disinfectant solution,” Simmons said while going through one of Portsmouth’s “Pandemic Kits.”
“We have goggles, vinyl gloves, paper towels, tissues, trash bags,” Simmons told us as he was going through the box of supplies.
They have everything they need to wipe down, sanitize, purify classrooms. Every afternoon, after the children leave for the day, Portsmouth goes on the big clean.
“We have enacted a deep cleaning protocol which starts every afternoon at 5 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. in all our schools — making sure we are disinfecting, wiping down all contact surfaces.”
Over in Norfolk, educators worked to compile educational packets for students. Preparations for canceled school began before Gov. Northam’s announcement Friday afternoon.
“This packet is going to be for three weeks worth of instructional materials based on where we are in the school year,” said John Hazelette Friday.
“I am amazed at the quickness it has come, and the changes by the hours. When we talked about the plan yesterday [about] what we are learning today, or this afternoon, or tomorrow morning, over the weekend, it has really been incredible how fast this has unfolded,” Hazelette said.
A country-wide response
Northam joins governors from states across the country in choosing to shut down schools. His decision came just hours after West Virginia’s governor decided to close all schools.
“We recognize this decision places burdens on many of our parents and families, especially for those who rely on school nutrition programs for access to healthy food for their children,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “However, we believe closing Virginia schools is in the Commonwealth’s best interest as we seek to stop the spread of COVID-19. Virginia will continue to explore and implement innovative approaches to provide meals to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch during this closure.”
The school closures come a day after Northam declared a state of emergency to improve access to resources for Virginians during the outbreak. Northam has also banned out-of-state travel for state employees (with exemptions for those who live near the state’s border) and canceled special state events and conferences for 30 days.
The decision is part of a multi-agency state response plan. Northam’s office says these other initiatives are being implemented:
· The Department of Corrections (DOC) has canceled offender visitation at all facilities until further notice. Off-site video visitation is still available.
· A dedicated COVID-19 public information line with an updated, recorded message is operational. The phone number is (804) 887-8484.
· DOC has implemented a screening protocol for offenders coming into state facilities from local jails.
· Virginia provided detailed guidance to correctional facilities and other work locations regarding approved hand washing, sanitizing, and disinfectant products, and instructions for the proper use of those products to provide protection from COVID-19.
· The Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) has directed all state agencies to update their emergency operations and paid leave policies, and Virginia will begin implementing a phased transition to teleworking for state employees.
· Virginia is setting an example by activating paid Public Health Emergency Leave for state employees who have recently traveled to high-risk areas.
· All official travel outside of Virginia by state employees has been halted, with increased flexibility for inter-state commuters and essential personnel. State employees have been advised to limit in-person meetings and non-essential work-related gatherings. Specific guidance will be released to agency heads and state employees, and Virginia will revisit these guidelines after 30 days.
· The Department of Medical Assistance Services and the Department of Social Services are preparing options to ensure the most vulnerable populations have continued access to critical services, including the potential for in-home care and food support.
· In the event of extended school closures, the Department of Social Services is working with local partners, such as food pantries, to ensure no one goes hungry.
· The Department of Rail and Public Transportation is coordinating with Metro, Amtrak, Virginia Rail Express, and transit agencies across Virginia to adjust cleaning schedules according to CDC protocol.
· Washington Dulles International Airport is one of 11 airports designated by the federal government to receive flights from China. The CDC is conducting screenings of passengers at Dulles who have been in China or Iran during the past 14 days.
· Virginia is also working with transportation partners to help reduce the potential spread of disease.