District prepares for possibility of local COVID-19 outbreak


Courtesy Hannah A Bullock & Azaibi Tamin

Transmission electron microscopic image of an isolate from the first U.S. case of COVID-19, formerly known as 2019-nCoV. The spherical viral particles, colorized blue, contain cross-sections through the viral genome, seen as black dots. The recent outbreak of the virus has lead to the Algonquin community taking precautions to attempt to limit its spread.

Melissa Dai and Claire Bai

The school district is currently preparing for the escalation of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) threat by taking precautions based on the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), Department of Public Health (DPH) and local authority announcements. 

Since its outbreak arose in Wuhan, China in December, COVID-19 has spread all over the world, including the United States. As of March 10, Massachusetts has been in a state of emergency because of the virus, prompting the district to actively prepare for the possibility of it reaching the Northborough-Southborough community.

“Our goal is to really think different scenarios through, assess and address any risk factors, assess and address any student/faculty needs all before we need to actually make larger decisions,” Principal Sara Pragluski Walsh said in an interview via email. “We want to be able to have plans in advance that are well-thought-out and not rushed.”

School will be canceled on Friday, March 13 with the current plan of returning on Monday, March 16 due to the virus. Additionally, the MIAA postponed all spring sports until March 30. 

The administration will continue to closely monitor COVID-19 and discuss measures to prevent the spread of the virus in the community. 

“We discussed anything from everything: early dismissal, closed for a few days, having to shut down extracurriculars and sports or run modified schedules,” Walsh said in her email. 

The initiatives taken by the administration are based on the advice of health officials.

“We will continue to follow the recommendations of our local board of health, DPH, CDC and DESE and implement the recommended guidelines [for what measures to take],” District Wellness Coordinator Mary Ellen Duggan said in an interview via email.

With the possibility of school closure, the administration has been contemplating ways to manage online learning for students and faculty.

“We reviewed technology needs, from devices to platforms to having access to Wi-Fi (as well as cleaning of devices),” Walsh said in her email. “We are preparing to modify the curriculum to be developmentally appropriate for various programs so that if we needed to close for a few days or if a student/faculty member was out, we could make these accommodations and continue the learning.”

Aside from preparing for school closure, the administration has also focused on internal improvements by increasing sanitation around the school to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses. 

“I pulled together facilities and cafeteria to add additional sanitation supports for students,” Walsh said in her email. “We are having the tables washed more frequently, for example just before lunch, and have more hand sanitizers available.”

Meanwhile, the administration has canceled some school-related events, field trips and rentals and is reviewing others to decide whether they will put students and staff at a greater risk for COVID-19. 

Duggan emphasizes that students and faculty should try to protect themselves with basic sanitary actions.

“I think constant reminders about prevention are the most important thing we can do right now—wash your hands, cover your cough/sneeze, keep your hands away from your face, stay home if you are sick and avoid sick contacts,” Duggan said in her email.