How ISL is preparing for the Coronavirus

March 5, 2020

Is it finally time to start carrying hand sanitizer, wearing masks and stocking up on food? As we all know, the novel coronavirus – officially named COVID-19 – is thought to have spread from Wuhan, China from December 2019. It has been transferred from person to person and recently reached us here in Switzerland. Currently, there are at least 111 confirmed cases and even the first death just yesterday. So how can the ISL community be prepared for the worst?


The virus comes from the Coronavirus family, which affects animals and humans. The disease is spread through direct contact with an infected person or being near enough to inhale the virus. The main symptoms are fever, dry cough, and fatigue, however, those with existing medical issues or who are older in age are more likely to develop serious symptoms. Only around 2% of diagnosed patients have passed away due to this virus. In comparison, other coronaviruses such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) had mortality rates of approximately 10% and 35%, respectively. The WHO (World Health Organisation) declared this as a global emergency due to widespread disruption. The search for a vaccine or cure is going on, but it is difficult to develop one in a short time span of a few weeks, especially with the virus mutating so quickly. 


Schools across Asia and Europe have been temporarily closed to control the spread of the coronavirus. Fortunately, our school has not been required to make such extreme decisions yet. Nevertheless, it is important that no one in the ISL community is affected by the virus, so the school has already begun to take necessary precautions. “We are trying to be careful, we are trying to be structured, we are trying to be clear. And what we want to do is provide people with good information,” Mr Cairns explains. The first step was sending updates to parents every few days about the severity of the situation. After which, a risk matrix, assessing the situation in the school’s perspective, was uploaded onto the ISL website. Throughout the process, the school has been following up with the Federal Office of Public Health, WHO, and the Canton of Vaud medical and education offices for advice. The crisis response team at ISL, including the Director, Principals, and Nurses, meet daily to make collective decisions based on the updates. Recently, International Day was postponed because of the high risk of having a large number of people together. All international trips until Easter have been cancelled. These measures may seem unnecessary — I mean, how would International Day bring the coronavirus? — but student safety is a priority and the school is going to minimise risks wherever possible. 


Conversations that the school could close and that we would all have to communicate via online classes have been circulating. These concerns are not entirely untrue, but the risk is not at a level where the school needs to shut down soon. The latest update from the school has put the risk at a 3 on a 4-level scale (3 being moderate risk –  local transmission in Switzerland but schools continue as normal with adequate precautions). If the level was a 4, there would be high risk and the schools in the region would be requested to close.


In preparation, the IT department has been looking into options for communication between teachers and students to ensure that education still continues. Since students and teachers already have experience with Google Classroom, this would be the main platform of communication. A video conferencing application looked into is Google Meet. It allows up to 30 people to connect through a video call. To avoid having to stare at a screen all day, the teacher would explain the instructions at the start of the lesson and give time to complete them. If software issues arise, there are alternative ways in which the IT can connect to a student’s laptop to fix it. ISL is constantly learning from other schools in Hong Kong, Singapore and China to find out how they are tackling the problem. Technology Integration Specialist at ISL, Mr Ribas, says, “The aim of these preparations is to minimise the impact as much as possible, but it will take patience and effort from everyone.”  


A question that keeps lingering at the back of the mind is, “What if someone at ISL has the coronavirus?” In this case, ISL would contact the authorities and follow their instructions “to the letter,” as Mr Cairns says. The most important thing for the school to ensure is to keep order and continue education. 


At this point in time, hygiene is one of the biggest factors determining the spread. The school nurses advise that students do their best to wash their hands correctly as “this is the students’ primary protection”. Anyone who has been to an infected area recently has been requested to stay at home for the incubation period, which is around 2 weeks. If symptoms begin to show, it is advised to seek medical attention immediately. ISL has taken steps to target hygiene – the regularity of cleaning has been increased, and even though ISL was striving to be an eco-school that doesn’t use chemical cleaning products, the products used now contain bleach. 


There have been other infectious diseases in the past and there is hope of developing medication for COVID-19 within a few months. All people need to do now is to recognise that there are risks, and that we need to support each other in the community. In situations like this one, our sense of community is put to the test. Mr Cairns shares “we’re all in the same boat and we’ve got to look after each other. How you respond to another person who you think may be infected is a real measure of the person you are.” 

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