Jackson County schools ramp up cleaning, education while staying open

When word came from Oregon officials March 7 that two of the state’s four new cases of COVID-19 were Jackson County residents, some local school districts sent out quick messages to their communities.

Officials in the Central Point School District posted an update to the district website noting that the two patients were known to have travel-related infections and no community spread had been identified.

“The health and safety of our students, staff and community is our first priority,” the post read. “District 6 will continue to monitor this situation closely and communicate any changes in protocols, events or school operations.”

In all school districts across Jackson County, schedules continued as normal throughout the weekend and Monday.

Officials in each district are daily weighing the costs and benefits to their students and staff involved with either canceling classes and events or keeping them in session. While schools remain open, employees are focusing on deterring the likelihood of infections by amping up sanitation efforts and keeping parents informed on when to keep their own children home.

“There’s a huge education or learning curve associated with it,” said Ron Havniear, facilities director and project manager for the Medford School District. As he oversees the custodial department, he supervises efforts to keep environments clean.

State officials from the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority urged local jurisdictions to do everything possible to keep schools open and running while they’re able to maintain a safe environment for communities.

“Keeping schools open is the best option for our state and, most importantly, for our students,” said Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education, in a news release over the weekend. “Our safety efforts should focus on practicing good hygiene, staying home when we are not feeling well, and cleaning surfaces in our schools.”

Though in theory none of those efforts are new, a focus on preventing COVID-19 infection has brought a renewed vigor to seeing them done.

Monday morning in Central Medford High School, custodians entered a quiet hallway with unusual cleaning supplies.

One man used a hand-held sprayer that almost resembled a hair dryer, which he trained on the lockers lining the hallway. Another, wearing a backpack sprayer loaded with a cartridge, walked slowly inside an empty classroom, misting a light covering of 66 Disinfectant over the surfaces.

The odorless cleaner takes about 10 minutes to settle, Havniear said.

“This is a tool that just helps us try to attack this proactively on a preventative level,” he said.

The backpack sprayers are particularly efficient, able to cover about 23,000 square feet with a single cartridge, he said.

The school district expects more orders for the sprayers as it ramps up its cleaning work. Demand for sanitizers has translated to steeper prices, Havniear said.

Disinfecting and cleaning was already a daily occurrence in each school, Havniear said, but for the past few weeks department employees have been disinfecting in schools multiple times per day.

Another aspect of prevention involves teaching school community members to take advantage of what’s been available all along.

At Medford elementary schools, said spokeswoman Natalie Hurd, staff are distributing squirts of hand sanitizer to students as they enter the cafeteria and emphasizing hand-washing for at least 20 seconds.

Hurd said she’s had just a few direct calls from parents and heard of a few others, requesting information or registering concern that schools remain open and events are still being held.

“It’s surprising,” she said. But giving people proactive information through social media and the website Medford set up with coronavirus information, she thinks, factors in.

“I think that’s helped in terms of not getting flooded with calls,” Hurd said.

The frequency with which districts and schools are updating their communities varies.

Ashland’s most recent update, posted before coronavirus was identified in Jackson County, said buses would be sanitized according to federal recommendations and classrooms would be supplied with extra disinfecting wipes, sanitizer and sterile gloves.

Spokespeople for Eagle Point and Ashland school districts couldn’t be reached Monday.

Central Point has made its comprehensive pandemic response plan available on its website, which includes interventions at every level.

Officials in each district continue to ask parents to partner with them in deciding when their children are too sick to go to school, and to keep vigilant with sufficient hand-washing outside of school.

“It’s a community-wide effort that’s going to help deter this,” Havniear said.

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