Coronavirus calls for vigilance, not hysteria

Einav Tsach

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Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State

Currently, there are six positive cases of the novel coronavirus in Maryland (Four in Montgomery County), and MCPS has determined they will not close schools. However, was this the right response?

Coronavirus is arguably the most talked about subject in the past couple of months. With the death toll steadily increasing, people are slowly entering a state of panic. On Thursday, March 5, Governor Larry Hogan confirmed that three Montgomery County residents had tested positive for the virus. Shortly after, MCPS put out a press release claiming that even with the confirmed cases, MCPS schools will continue to operate normally. They also said if the situation worsens, closure may become an option. I believe the situation has already reached the point where closure is necessary.

As much as it may seem so, I am not writing this piece out of trepidation, nor any personal gain as a student myself. However, I’m not indifferent to the issue in question, either. Caution is necessary when considering how to conduct oneself in light of these events.

In essence, this pandemic poses a similar danger to students as the one posed by ice on the roads or sidewalks. In fact, it’s worse, because students remain at risk even when they are in the building itself. The incubation period for the virus is two weeks, so an individual can be spreading the disease in school buildings for up to two weeks without showing symptoms, unaware that they’re sick. The virus can spread extremely quickly in the building\; computer keyboards, which tens of students use every day, could be infected. So can door handles and handrails and much more. Students’ presence at school puts them and their families in danger, and as a result, they should be able to stay at home to avoid further spreading. The chance that one of MoCo’s 165,000 students has been exposed to the infection is high, especially considering that one of the three people tested positive with the virus went to a Rockville retirement home on February 28.

Another letter sent Wednesday to the community explains that MCPS has begun taking actions to decrease the likelihood of an outbreak at its schools. They say that Building Services teams around the county have started implementing a higher level of focus in ensuring that communal surfaces are clean.

On Friday morning, WJ Building Services went through the school to specifically clean door handles and step handrails. While these efforts to address the issue are important, scientific evaluation from various organizations has shown that this will not make a difference in reducing potential for an outbreak. Since Covid-19 can stay on surfaces for up to 12 hours, only disinfecting the surface once per day isn’t effective. The infected individual will most definitely touch another surface that is in immediate contact with other students.

The same letter also highlights MCPS’s plan in case of a need for school closure. The county says that it has begun preparing for providing instruction even when schools are closed. This will be achieved with online classes, as well as hard copies.

While this may be a serious disruption to the flow of the school year, the safety of the Montgomery County community is more important. Besides, MCPS can continue instruction through its already existing platforms. These include Google and MyMCPS Classrooms, direct student-teacher emailing and the ELearning platform, which is used for online classes year-round and conceivably serves thousands. Other than providing hard copies, WJ can (as it already does) loan Chromebooks to those who don’t have access to technology at home.

Until MCPS finds a way to properly combat the pandemic, our only option is to wear our PJs inside out and hope for some surprise snow days in order to stay home and avoid the danger looming in our school. It is also important to follow the CDC’s guidelines on staying safe by washing hands frequently and thoroughly, avoiding sick individuals and more. See more information about the virus on their website: