(Update) Alabama reported its first case of coronavirus in the state Friday morning.
Cullman County’s school systems and other organizations are preparing for the virus to affect local residents.
Cullman County Schools Superintendent Shane Barnette said the county school system has cancelled all of its field trips that were going outside of Alabama and is reviewing its in-state field trips on a case-by-case basis, he said.
“We’re not going on any out-of-state field trips until further notice,” he said.
If an outbreak of COVID-19 does happen in one of Cullman County’s schools, there is a contingency plan in place, Barnette said.
“If we have a case in our system, we would close all of our schools for a certain period of time,” he said. He reiterated that message at the county school board meeting Thursday night. “Families, I would go ahead and plan in advance for this.”
At a press conference earlier this week, Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey said the recommendation is for schools to close for 24 to 48 hours if a student or school employee tests positive for the coronavirus in order to assess the situation.
Barnette said the amount of time that schools are closed would depend on the severity of a potential outbreak, and could be anywhere from the day or two recommended by the state to a longer period if necessary, and that closure would allow for a deep cleaning of schools and let the system determine any additional steps that may need to be taken.
Teachers are preparing digital materials or packets of work that can be completed by students at home in the event of a closure, and parents should be prepared for schools to close, he said.
“We’re hoping for the best but preparing for the worst,” he said.
Some changes are already being made by the school system. The County Science Fair at Wallace State on March 19 will be conducted without students present. Contestants will drop off their projects for judging and be notified later if they won, said Barnette.
Cullman City Schools Superintendent Susan Patterson said the city system is also preparing for the possibility of closures and trying to prevent students from being exposed to the coronavirus.
“Cullman City Schools does have contingency plans in place in the event that we have school closures,” she said in an email. “We are assessing all of our activities and field trips on a case by case basis following the direction of Alabama State Department of Education Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey.”
In a letter to faculty and parents sent out Thursday afternoon, Cullman High School Principal Kim Hall said the school has also suspended all of its school-sponsored out-of-state trips.
Both school systems have asked that any students who have traveled out of the country or have possibly been in contact with someone who has the virus to stay at home and contact their healthcare provider for further instruction.
The systems have posted more information about the coronavirus — including the latest statements from both superintendents and other state officials and educational materials about the virus — at their websites at cullmancats.net and at ccboe.org.
St. Bernard Prep has canceled a spring break trip overseas. A letter to parents states "We do not have any instructions from authorities at this time, but we want to take precautions in case we need to close the school for a time."
SBP officials are asking the following:
Students should take home their books over spring break. Teachers will instruct the students on what material is essential.
Parents should check their email regularly during spring break for alerts from the school.
Parents should make whatever arrangements they can for online classes should the school need to close. SBP is planning to use REN WEB and YOUTUBE to deliver instruction. If a student does not have a device to access online course work, parents should see Fr. Linus on Friday (March 13).
Officials are also asking parents to inform the school of any overseas travel or any possible exposure to the Coronavirus. They state they will make accommodations for students who need to miss school due to quarantine.
The Cullman County Sheriff’s Office said the county jail is prepared to handle the virus the same as they do with flu cases by quarantining the affected person and hospitalization, in consultation with Cullman Regional and the state Department of Public Health.
Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs also sent out an email Thursday afternoon to assure residents that the city is following the progress of the virus.
“The City of Cullman is concerned about the health and safety of our community and is taking this coronavirus very seriously,” he said. “We are working with all available local, state and federal agencies and resources to continually monitor the evolving public health risks related to the virus.”
Jacobs said city officials are coordinating daily with police, fire, emergency management, first responders, health officials and others to gauge the appropriate response in Cullman, and encouraged residents to be prepared for the virus.
“Preparedness is the key,” he said. “For now we encourage people to exercise common sense in their own decisions.”