Education officials in Washington state closed a school near Seattle after a relative of a staff member was put into quarantine because they potentially have the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Bothell High School, about 25 miles northeast of Seattle, was shut down on Thursday “out of an abundance of caution,” Michelle Reid, the superintendent of the Northshore School District, said in a letter to parents and students.
A staff member at the school was traveling internationally for a week before returning to the United States and reporting back for work on Monday, Reid said. That staffer said a relative who was traveling with them became ill on Tuesday and was taken to the hospital.
The relative was placed into quarantine over concerns they might have the COVID-19 disease, which is caused by the new virus that emerged in China late last year. Subsequently, the staff member began a self-quarantine at home.
“At this time, there is no confirmation that the family member’s illness is connected to the coronavirus outbreak, but out of an abundance of caution, the family member is being tested,” Reid told school families in the letter.
Officials at first were told they’d learn of the test results in one day but public health officials told them in a meeting the results could take up to seven days to be processed. Reid said she was pushing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide the results faster.
While health officials have indicated the risk to the community is minimal, and said they didn’t think a school closure was warranted, Reid said she decided to close the school on Thursday.
“While today, our support services staff have been taking initial steps to disinfect the areas where the staff member traveled on the campus, we need more time to fully and completely disinfect the entire school as a preventive measure,” she said. Officials also wanted to find students, staff members, or visitors that came into contact with the staff member who is now in isolation when he or she was at work on Monday.
The country the staff member and their relative traveled to was not disclosed.
One of the 60 cases confirmed in the United States was a Washington state resident. That was the first case confirmed domestically and the man was later released from the hospital after officials said he fully recovered.
Federal officials warned this week that community spread of the COVID-19 disease is possible and warned people to prepare for their lives to be disrupted, citing school closures as a possible action taken by communities to try to stem such a spread.
The first case in the United States from possible person-to-person spread outside of China or Japan was confirmed in California late Wednesday. Officials aren’t sure how the patient became infected.
Federal officials on Thursday said issues that delayed wider testing of the virus were finally solved and urged the public to remain calm, claiming an outbreak of the new virus in the United States would be similar to the annual spread of influenza.
The new virus has symptoms that are nearly indistinguishable from the flu, including fever, headache, and trouble breathing. Until recently, only those who have a travel history to China or who have been in close contact with someone who has are being tested. But testing started this week on samples gathered in several major cities from suspected flu patients if their samples tested negative for the flu.
Experts say the best ways to avoid the new virus include frequently washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer—especially before eating—avoid sick people, and not touching one’s face, mouth, or nose with unwashed hands.