NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk leaders reached out Thursday to detail their plans for dealing with the coronavirus, should it come here, and emphasize standard health practices to avoid getting ill or spreading the disease.
“Please, please, please wash your hands well and wash them frequently,” Norwalk Director of Health Deanne D’Amore said during the press conference at City Hall, which included updates from Norwalk Public Schools and Norwalk Hospital.
Video by Harold Cobin included with story
“As with many things, you hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said.
People who have a responsibility to deal with the coronavirus, or COVID19, had met for an hour Thursday morning to discuss the possible pandemic, in addition to the discussions that have been ongoing, Mayor Harry Rilling said. They will meet more often if there is a need.
There are nearly 100,000 cases worldwide and 3,387 deaths are reported, according to worldometers.info.
“Right now, we have no cases in the state of Connecticut, but we do have indications there are cases in Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, and certainly we know that California has just declared a state of emergency,” Rilling said. “So we are prepared and we’re talking on a regular basis and we want to make sure that we’re getting that information out.”
“The risk is low for those of us in Norwalk,” D’Amore said, advising the public on how to wash your hands:
- Wash for at least 20 seconds
- Rub the front and back of your hands, in between your fingers, and “wash more frequently than you do now.”
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
Avoid touching your face, because germs might be on your hands, she said. And avoid close contact with people who are sick.
“This virus can be spread also through droplets when people cough, sneeze and talk near us. So if you keep more distance between people you’re likely to protect yourself. And if you feel sick, please stay at home from work or school. And please call your doctor to determine if you need medical attention,” she said.
Cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw that tissue out, she advised. And get a flu shot, so that health workers won’t have to help you with a disease that was preventable when they need to be helping patients with the virus.
Plus, “We’re asking everyone if it has a travel a level three travel health notice from the CDC that you remain at home or from and do not go to school or work for 14 days upon your return,” she said.
NPS takes action
Norwalk Public Schools has assembled a team “to discuss education specific issues, concerns and solutions. A message was sent out to all families earlier this week to reassure parents, let them know what we are doing and reinforce basic steps to prepare and prevent the coronavirus spread,” NPS Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo said.
“Our facilities department is ensuring that custodians clean and disinfect schools thoroughly, with a particular emphasis on touch points such as door handles, tables and desks,” Costanzo explained. “To ensure that cleaners are most effective, we have modified our current cleaning practices and are now using a spray and walk away approach, returning after the cleaner has had time to work on the surface as opposed to the spray and wipe.”
School buses are cleaned every day, after every run, and, “Availability of ample cleaning supplies has been confirmed at all of our school buildings,” Costanzo continued. “Custodians and principals are also doing regular spot checks to ensure that hand soap dispensers are filled.”
The schedule of international field trips is being reviewed and “several scheduled for areas where the virus is widespread have already been canceled,” he said. Japanese exchange students have had their Norwalk visits cancelled.
“We are also having discussions on how to provide learning opportunities for individual students if they must be out of school for an extended period of time,” and kits that include Chromebooks, hotspots and instructions to get online are being assembled, Costanzo explained.
“We are hopeful that we will not need to close a school due to the coronavirus, but parents should be thinking now through their own plans for work and possible childcare just to be safe. We will follow all recommended protocols from health experts should a case be confirmed in the community,” Costanzo concluded.
NPS will avoid holding school assemblies and if there is a coronavirus case in Norwalk may revert to in-class lunches, Adamowski said. “(We) will also consider staggering entry and dismissal times to reduce the numbers of students that are together.”
If a family uses the April break to visit a country where the disease is widespread, the student will be quarantined for two weeks and will receive their education electronically at home, Adamowski said.
There are confirmed coronavirus cases in Westchester, N.Y., so NPS is studying the measures taken by New Rochelle Public Schools, he said.
“They are keeping the schools open,” Adamowski said. “They will go on a schedule a couple days at a time, then no school for a day, deep cleaning couple days at a time and so on. We’re not sure that we would do that if we needed to, but it’s certainly being considered.”
“We’ll take as many precautions as we can, you know, within our own school system to reduce the … risk and again, we appreciate all support we’re getting from the State of Connecticut and our own health department in dealing with this and knowing what are the best practices to follow,” Adamowski said.
Medical strategies in Norwalk
Dr. Paolo Pino, an infectious disease specialist at Norwalk Hospital, said, “we’ve been preparing for this over last several weeks.”
“While there have been no positive cases today, as it’s been indicated, there have been patients that we’ve evaluated, persons of interest that we’ve gone through clinical criteria pretty comprehensively,” Pino said.
Testing for the coronavirus is now being done by the State, in Rocky Hill, he said. Norwalk Hospital uses an ever-evolving algorithm to determine, in conjunction with discussions with primary care physicians, if a patient needs to be tested.
Asked if the hospital has considered how many beds it might need, he replied, “We’re prepared, and maximize as many resources as we can within the network. So we have special rooms that have to be set up at this point, based on criteria set out by the CDC/WHO (Center for Disease Control and Prevention/World Health Organization). So we have those rooms here. We have more than some other hospitals, some other hospitals have more than we do.”
D’Amore said that if there is a case here, standard protocols for communicable diseases would be followed.
“We would first try to figure out how that person got infected,” she explained. “… we would also be looking to see who that person had been in contact with.”
The state lab tested cases Wednesday and the results all came back negative, she said.
Again, wash your hands
The prevention recommendations are just common sense, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) said.
“This is not a moment to panic, but a moment to use everything that we’ve always learned about good health, and that we will get through this as a as our community in our state and our nation,” Duff said.
“It’s critical that people educate themselves,” Rilling advised. “We want to give real time information where people can be informed, but we also don’t want to create a situation where people are panicking and so forth. Just take those universal precautions. Make sure you wash your hands, social isolation if you feel there’s a problem and call your health care provider if you feel that you may be symptomatic.”
This article was amended late Friday to include a PDF provided by Norwalk Director of Health Deanne D’Amore.