School districts across northwest Montana met with public health officials last week to begin preparing for potential impacts from the novel coronavirus. Flathead County health officials asked schools to give basic hygiene information to students and staff.
Public health officials want schools to craft plans for potential closures and remote instruction. Federal and state guidance does not suggest schools close in communities without coronavirus cases.
Flathead Public Health Officer Hillary Hanson notes that any decisions on school closures would be made with district administrators and health officials on a case by case basis.
"We’re really going to look at, what does COVID look like in our community. So, one case does not equal the schools closing. Instead, we’re looking at sustained transmission in our community."
Public health officials are also advising educational institutions to keep up to date on the latest travel advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Both of Montana’s major universities have canceled all school-sponsored international travel. Montana State University is asking a group of students returning from personal trips to Italy to self-quarantine for 14-days.
Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau says the district is allowing travel depending on the destination.
"No one is telling us that we should not be traveling to areas that are not deemed unsafe, whether it’s coronavirus or any other health issue."
The district has canceled a spring break trip to Japan due to the CDC’s advisory to forego all non-essential travel there. Flatau says the district is moving forward with middle and high school trips to England and Costa Rica, both countries with a lower risk of community spread.