Frederick County is gearing up for the expected spread of the dreaded coronavirus into Maryland — and hoping and praying that it will never happen or at least be milder than predicted.
The schools, the hospital, and the county and city governments are all trying to take every necessary step to prepare.
So far, no one in Maryland has tested positive for the virus, but it is spreading relentlessly across the globe and the country. The general expectation is that it is inevitable it will strike our state.
Every day the headlines warn of the coming pandemic, and people are frightened to the point of panic. Have you tried to buy hand sanitizer in the last week? Good luck finding it anywhere. The financial markets are roiled. Food and water are being stockpiled in many basements by people worried that they might be forced to hole up in their homes for weeks.
At times like this, it is comforting and reassuring when local officials are working hard to get ready in case bad things happen.
Frederick County Public Schools knows that the risk of contracting the illness seems to be low for children and young people in general, but they are taking necessary steps, and not taking any chances.
“All school systems have a plan for dealing with a pandemic. The good news is right now the coronavirus is not at a crisis level and basically what the CDC said is start getting ready, make sure you’re prepared, start having the conversations,” Superintendent Terry Alban told the Board of Education recently.
Jenifer Waters, health services specialist for FCPS, noted that many steps important for reducing transmission of the coronavirus are similar to those to prevent spreading the flu. Since this time of year normally sees an increase in sick students due to the flu, health rooms are already stocked with necessary materials and resources, she said.
Prevention of the spread of the flu virus is the top priority for schools right now. While the coronavirus is getting all the attention, the state has already seen more than 33,000 cases of the flu this season, and 45 people have died, of which five were children.
Health room staff have already been trained on how to respond to students or other school staff who may exhibit symptoms of coronavirus, Waters said. Schools are staffed with public health registered nurses who work for the county Health Department.
The practical measures are the same ones recommended for avoiding the flu. Students are being reminded to wash their hands often and cough or sneeze into their elbow if tissues are not readily available. Frequently touched objects and surfaces are also being disinfected often.
If the situation became dire, officials indicated, schools might be closed, but no guidelines for when to take that action have been issued by the state or federal governments.
“The situation and guidance are evolving rapidly,” Waters said.
Both Frederick Health Hospital and the county Health Department have reported that they are ready to respond as well.
If a person with coronavirus symptoms shows up at Frederick Health Hospital, the staff can place the person in isolation. The hospital has six negative-pressure isolation rooms in the emergency department, and 12 more throughout the hospital, an official said.
The hospital was an evaluation hospital in 2014 during the Ebola outbreak, and it developed protocols to use to take care of a patient in isolation then.
Our local health care workers are on top of this issue, and are well-trained and well-prepared. We hope the worst will never happen, but thankfully our medical first responders seem to have a handle on the steps they would take to meet any challenge.