Dear St. Michael’s Parents and Families,
With news of the spread of the novel Coronavirus, the mood everywhere it seems is an increasingly uncertain and anxious one. Today, the World Health (WHO) Organization issued a statement declaring the outbreak of COVID-19 a global pandemic. Closer to home, there has been at least one confirmed case of the virus in Pima County.
While the local infection rate for COVID-19 seems negligible, the rapid and unpredictable nature of the virus strongly suggests it is likely only a matter of time before we see a widespread impact in the State of Arizona and in Tucson.
In the interest of concern for and transparency with all of you, therefore, I am writing with an update of the current and potential longer term impacts of COVID-19 on the St. Michael’s community, including a summary of our ongoing efforts, in partnership with a number of organizations, to assess, monitor, and maintain student and faculty health at St. Michael’s.
Please note that we have no concern at present for anyone within the St. Michael’s community with regard to COVID-19.
Our Board of Trustees met last night for a lengthy discussion on the current and potential longer term considerations for our school with regard to COVID-19. These concerns are centered entirely on the health and wellbeing of all within our community.
Last week, in consultation with our Board and our administrative team, we decided to defer this year’s Upper School trips (scheduled for mid-April) to Colorado, California, and Washington, DC. Our Board and administrative team, for sound reasons, are considering as well a postponement of our re-accreditation visit with the Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools (SAES), presently scheduled for March 22-25. At my suggestion and that of our Director of Philanthropy, Marnie Ackerman, our Board also fully supports our decision to cancel our March 28th Block Party and hosting a virtual (online) version of the event instead. Please see Mrs. Ackerman’s email to be sent on Friday with details for the change.
While these decisions may seem to some extent overly reactive, we are encouraged to take a proactive approach in light of news updates with each passing day of a growing number of schools and colleges in the U.S. that have already decided to limit or suspend altogether their academic classes and other campus activities, above all to minimize the spread of the virus.
At present, as I noted above, we have no reason for concern for anyone within the St. Michael’s community with regard to COVID-19. At the same time, the virus continues to spread in the U.S. and in the State of Arizona, characterized by a highly unpredictable pattern of infection and no clear sense of its duration. Given the projections by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the local alerts from the Pima County Department of Health, and the updates we are attuned to for regional schools and independent schools in the U.S., we are taking all precautions for the prevention of illness at school and preparing for the possibility, though an unlikely one, of an extended school closure.
I will communicate any and all updates with all of you as often as necessary, asking in return that you please exercise due patience and support for our collective efforts to keep everyone healthy, safe, and informed. To that same end, please note that our School Nurse, Mrs. Erika Huff, has adjusted her off-campus responsibilities in the interim and assumed a full-time role on our campus to help guide our efforts with prevention and education. She is also serving as point of contact with the Pima County Health Department for any and all alerts for schools.
With recommendations provided to schools by the CDC, under the guidance of Nurse Erika Huff, please note the steps we have taken and the efforts we are asking you to take to assure as best we can the health of the students, families, and faculty and staff in our care:
- If your child is showing signs of any illness (cold and flu especially), please assure they stay home until they are ready to return. If you have any questions or concerns about your son or daughter’s readiness to attend or return to school because of illness, please contact Nurse Huff.
- We also ask parents to provide to Nurse Huff accurate reporting if your son or daughter is at home and ill, with a full description of symptoms.
- We have increased our emphasis on and expectations for hand hygiene for students, faculty, and staff. The most effective (though not infallible) preventive practice recommended by health experts is to clean and dry thoroughly one’s hands throughout the day with warm water and soap (for at least 20 seconds at a time) and avoid contact with the eyes, nose, and mouth. Please encourage the same practice at home.
- We have increased our own efforts with campus cleaning, including a directive to our contracted janitorial and cleaning service, which operates nightly, to assure they perform disinfection on all high-touch areas (handrails, drinking fountains, doorknobs and handles, etc.).
- Our own maintenance staff is also performing deep-clean and disinfection on high-touch areas twice a week (desks and chairs, front surface of upper school lockers and locks, etc.)
- Teachers will also be trained by Nurse Huff in daily disinfection protocols using a disinfectant kit for each classroom, and we purchased more recently an ample supply of disinfecting hand wipes for the next 30 days for each classroom as well.
As noted, I will be in touch as often as necessary throughout the coming week and beyond to keep you apprised of any developments regarding the impact of COVID-19 at St. Michael’s. We all appreciate the thoughtful suggestions, comments, and questions that many of you have recently offered in the spirit of care and concern for all!
Head of School
Erika Huff, R.N.
SMS Faculty and Staff
SMS Board of Trustees