POLK COUNTY — In the midst of international concerns about the spread of coronavirus, local officials are talking about precautionary measures in Polk County communities.
As of press time on Tuesday afternoon, 15 cases of COVID-19 were reported in Oregon in seven counties: Jackson, Klamath, Umatilla, Washington, Douglas, Marion and Multnomah.
Of those, one person is younger than 17; one is 18-24; five are 35-54; eight are aged 55-74. Six are hospitalized.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control report 647 cases of COVID-19, with 25 deaths because of the disease.
“There’s a lot of information out there locally, regionally and nationally as it relates to the coronavirus,” said Jennifer Kubista, Central School District superintendent at the March 2 school board meeting. “We take all of this very seriously. Any infectious disease — whether it be the flu or anything else, we work with the health department.”
She said she wanted “give a shout out” to Brain Weatherly, facilities manager, for his efforts.
“Even last week as this was starting to hit, he had shared with Cec (Koontz) and I, ‘Hey let’s get on the front end of this.’ Our custodial staff are intensifying their cleaning and sanitizing efforts in highly touched surfaces as well as stocking additional hand washing supplies.”
Kubista said she’s seen custodians walking through buildings wiping things down.
“They are working extremely hard,” she said. “If you see a custodian, please give them a thank you because they are doing great things to keep our schools safe.”
Kubista said she and Koontz were participating in an “awareness effort” at Western Oregon University to talk through how a situation would be handled throughout the community.
Monmouth interim city manager Chad Olsen brought up the subject during his report to Monmouth City Council on March 3.
Besides making sure city staff members have hand sanitizer and tissues, he wants to make sure they are able to stay home if they are sick.
“We’re on it,” Olsen said. “It’s ramping up and will continue to do so over the next four to eight weeks.”
Olsen said city workers have talked about a work-from-home strategy.
He said another thing they talked about is what happens when people are out sick.
“Of course, if you’re sick, stay home, we don’t want you to come in,” Olsen said. “If you come in, we’re going to send you home. But what happens if they don’t have sufficient leave? My directions to staff is that they stay home. We’ll work it out later.”
Olsen said he is not a fan of people having to take leave without pay, “so possibly we would be advancing some sick leave to just cover that period of time.”
Dallas School District interim superintendent Andy Bellando provided an update on the district’s plans to handle a possible outbreak, and asked the Dallas School Board for suggestions in addition to what he outlined.
“I think we as a school district have an obligation to be responsive, to plan and not to be reactive,” Bellando said.
He said the district has had conversations with Polk County Public Health and are getting frequent updates from Oregon Health Authority.
“We have not realized any drop in attendance that is detectable,” Bellando said. “In fact, the average attendance over the last three or four weeks, we’ve actually seen some improved attendance. So that’s a good sign.”
He said custodial staff have been instructed on cleaning practices within the schools and providing additional cleaning supplies to teachers on request.
“We are also stressing the importance of just good health care, taking care of yourself,” Bellando said. “Washing hands frequently, not touching your face.”
Board chair Mike Blanchard said that days may have to be made up and parents will have to consider child care if school is closed.
Bellando said he wouldn’t decide to close a school before receiving guidance from OHA.
Board member Dave Hunt said that it is not only the students the district should think of, as children may be asymptomatic, but still be able to spread the virus to older, more vulnerable family members. He said the district should prepare as if it will eventually have to close a school or multiple schools.
“My thought at the board level, is we have a responsibility to the community to recognize that we would be sitting on one of the major vectors for spreading this if we get it in the community,” Hunt said. “When that happens, I feel like we have a responsibility to the community at large, not just the kids, to look at limiting the exposures.”
Independence city manager Tom Pessemier said the city has a list of precautions it is taking in response to COVID-19.
“We are monitoring this closely and are creating plans to make sure that there is continuity of essential services while protecting city employees’ health,” Pessemier said.
Janitorial staff is disinfecting all hard surfaces and doorknobs in public areas, he said.
The city is developing an emergency management website to host important city information and connect to community partners.
The city set up an employee communication protocol in case operations are modified so employees know in advance what to expect, Pessemier said.
They are working on telecommuting systems and identifying positions that can work remotely if necessary, he said.
Pessemier said they also are communicating with employees about the recommendations from the Oregon Health Authority regarding not coming to work when sick.