People should be ‘vigilant’, keep children home if sick during coronavirus spread, Harford school officials say

Coronavirus update by Harford County Executive Barry Glassman

Harford school officials continue to monitor developments as the number of coronavirus cases rises in Maryland — including at least one confirmed case in Harford County — in an environment where “the information is just changing by the moment,” schools Superintendent Sean Bulson said Monday.

Bulson addressed what he called “an evolving situation” with coronavirus, or COVID-19, during the Harford County Board of Education’s regular business meeting Monday evening. Board member Dr. Roy Phillips, a local physician, also discussed the virus that has been spreading around the world since it emerged in Wuhan, China several months ago.


“I’m not infectious disease specialist, I’m not an epidemiologist, but we deal with this stuff every day,” said Phillips, who is an endocrinologist, a branch of medicine specializing in the multiple glands in the body, hormones and treating conditions such as diabetes.

The superintendent emphasized that, “at this point,” Harford County Public Schools leaders have no plans to close schools or cancel major events.


“It is still the expectation that our students, who are healthy, are in school,” Bulson said. “Our students who are sick should not be coming to school.”

Anyone, whether a student, parent or HCPS staff member, should not come to school if they have a fever of 100 degrees or higher, according to Bulson.

“Our basic guidance around that has been, it’s OK to return when you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours but [it is] even better when you’ve had some guidance from your healthcare provider, notably your doctor,” he said.

Bulson was among the Harford County leaders who took part in a press conference Monday afternoon following an announcement from Gov. Larry Hogan on Sunday that a woman who lives in Harford County has been hospitalized with COVID-19.

Hogan said the woman, 86, contracted the virus while traveling in Turkey, although the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., disputed that claim Tuesday, saying she had been traveling from Albania to Dulles International Airport with a stopover at Istanbul Airport, according to border entry records.

There have been six cases confirmed in Maryland as of Monday; other cases have been identified in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Maryland is under a state of emergency, and Hogan is convening a Coronavirus Response Team.

The local government will continue to operate in a normal manner, County Executive Barry Glassman said during the Monday news conference. Local health officials are working closely with the Maryland Department of Health.

Bulson said HCPS officials are “taking significant guidance” from the county health department, which is coordinating with state health officials.

“In all cases, we’re deferring to the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” he said of the federal health agency.

Bulson recommended people visit the CDC’s website for more information on COVID-19, noting that “they have great school guidance” on the site.

Two main issues that have come up amid discussions about the virus on social media are handwashing — something many health officials recommend to reduce spread of the illness — and school attendance, according to Bulson.

Central office leaders spoke with school principals Monday morning and emphasized the need for principals “to be very deliberately focused” on giving instructions and providing multiple opportunities for students to wash their hands. Principals also should communicate with the surrounding communities about the need for children to wash their hands, Bulson said.


The superintendent said there has been much discussion in the national media about the benefits of closing schools versus keeping them open as coronavirus spreads. He said HCPS leaders are weighing concerns such as families who depend on schools to provide regular meals for their children, as well as any challenges parents face in their ability to watch children who have to stay home from school when sick.

“Things are changing daily, and so we just encourage everyone be safe, use good judgement,” Bulson said. “We want our students in school if they’re healthy — we want them to stay home if they’re sick.”

On Monday, Baltimore and Anne Arundel county school systems canceled all field trips outside of Maryland or Washington, D.C., in response to the viruses’ spread. Harford County Public Schools has not canceled field trips or events, said spokeswoman Jillian Lader, although school leaders have been directed not to schedule any new field trips or events.

The John Carroll School, which planned to host a Holocaust remembrance day Wednesday, had to modify their programming. Holocaust survivors were scheduled to speak, but fears of the virus coupled with the vulnerability of senior citizens made them reconsider.

With some speakers pulling out of the event, the school will instead show a selection of movies as well as an excerpt from a student-produced “Diary of Anne Frank," according to an email from Caroline Haggerty, an admissions marketing coordinator at the school.

Dr. Roy Phillips, right, a member of the Harford County Board of Education, talks about coronavirus, or COVID-19, during a meeting of the school board Monday evening while board Vice President Rachel Gauthier listens.
Dr. Roy Phillips, right, a member of the Harford County Board of Education, talks about coronavirus, or COVID-19, during a meeting of the school board Monday evening while board Vice President Rachel Gauthier listens.(David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

‘Historical perspective’ on coronavirus

Board member Phillips gave what he called “historical perspective” on COVID-19, which he said has infected about 500 people in the U.S. and caused 22 deaths, as of Monday morning.

Phillips noted past epidemics and pandemics, such as the H1N1 influenza in 2009-2010, the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the global influenza of 1918, have resulted in many more infections and deaths than what has happened so far during the coronavirus outbreak.

There were about 500 million cases, or one-third of the world’s population at the time, of influenza in 1918, with 50 million deaths, Phillips said. There were 61 million cases of H1N1 in the U.S. more than 90 years later; Phillips said H1N1 is a “sub-type of influenza A,” similar to the virus responsible for the 1918 pandemic — 274,000 people were hospitalized, with 12,500 deaths, from the latter disease in the United States.

“H1N1 continues to be prevalent today; we’ve actually seen a number of cases during this year’s flu season,” Phillips said. “It is a type-A influenza and it is still one of the causes of the seasonal flu, of which we’ve seen a number of cases this year.”

There were an estimated 49,000 deaths from seasonal influenza last year, and 20,000 to 50,000 people are expected to die during the 2019-2020 flu season, according to Phillips.

He noted that, so far, 138 children and youths, “pediatric” patients, have died from the flu this year. The novel coronavirus has not shown up in many children so far, though.

Phillips noted that some other strains of coronavirus cause the common cold, and children develop antibodies to the virus after being exposed. Antibody levels “tend to drop off a little bit” as people get older, though, which is why COVID-19 is more common among older people so far, he said.


“I think we all need to be vigilant — we need to practice good hand hygiene,” he said, also recommending that people cough into their arms.

People who are not sick should not buy face masks, which are intended for sick people so they do not spread the virus through airborne droplets expelled when they cough or sneeze. Wearing a mask will not do any good if a person is not sick, as “the droplets are going to get on your body one way or another,” Phillips said.

“I just think we need to be careful,” he said. “If your kids are sick, keep them home; if you’re sick, stay home, which is good hygiene habits under all circumstances.”

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