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Schools should be ready for sick days

COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, has brought everyday life in large areas of China to a near standstill. Schools and factories are closed. The same goes for many other businesses, including retail outlets.

As the virus has spread, other areas have been affected similarly, though not to the extent of China. Italian officials are among others taking drastic steps — essentially a national lockdown, urging people to not leave home unless absolutely necessary.

As many as 300 million children in 22 countries have been affected by school closures linked to attempts to keep COVID-19 from spreading, the Associated Press reported this week. Here in the United States, officials in both higher education and lower grades are making contingency plans.

Schools are a germ’s dream, of course. Children with little regard for personal hygiene sneezing into the air, wiping their noses on their hands, then taking colds — or worse — home can be a big problem. Once the first cycle is completed, of course, the kids bring their families’ maladies to school with them.

Closing schools at any level is a serious decision, not just for students’ education but also for parents and other caregivers. If your 9-year-old can’t go to school, someone has to stay home with him or her. That means a missed day’s work — a serious matter for many families.

On the other hand, becoming ground zero for an outbreak of COVID-19 or any other serious disease is not an appealing prospect for educators.

In our area, then, we encourage educators to communicate effectively and continually with public health agencies. Frankly, decisions on whether to keep schools open are best left to the public health professionals. If they recommend closures, classes should be suspended.

Education officials at all levels should have already begun making contingency plans for closure. One appealing alternative to classroom presence is online teaching, already being planned by some at colleges and universities.

We hope COVID-19 stays far enough away from our area that schools do not have to be dismissed until time for spring break — and after that not until summer vacation. But if public health officials recommend keeping the kids at home, so be it.

COVID-19 is not as deadly as some viral infections, but it is spreading very fast, and we don’t have vaccine or treatment drugs for it yet. It is wise to take it seriously.