The Jericho School District canceled an exchange program with a group of Chinese students from the city of Xi’an, which was scheduled to start on Thursday, Jan. 30, due to the concern of the coronavirus. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated there is no immediate threat for the coronavirus to spread in America, the district said it wanted to prevent any potential risk of the disease from spreading.
Prior to the cancellation, multiple emails were sent to parents and faculty between Sunday, Jan. 26 and Monday, Jan. 27, reaffirming the district would not only allow the visit to continue, but that they were positive the students were not near the epicenter of the virus.
“With an abundance of caution, we have made the decision to cancel the visit of students from Xi’an to our school district, beginning on Thursday this week,” Jericho superintendent Henry Grishman said in an email sent to parents at approximately 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 27. “We are in the process of planning alternate activities for the exchange students that will not bring them into the school district or our students’ homes. As a result our students will not be able to join the exchange in any of these activities.”
The cancellation announcement came about three hours after Jericho High School co-principal Joan Rosenberg sent an email to parents and staff, stating, “there is no risk in their visiting our school district.” Within the three-hour span, a Jericho School District representative said the “administration met yesterday [and] they decided to exercise caution.”
On Sunday evening, a night before the district officially canceled the exchange program, Grishman sent out a joint statement on behalf of both the Jericho and Syosset school districts with fellow superintendent Tom Rogers. Syosset said the reason it sent out the email was to make parents aware about the coronavirus, even though they don’t have an exchange program like Jericho does.
“Over the past week, we have been monitoring the newly-identified coronavirus and we have sought guidance on whether there are any additional precautions we should be taking at this time,” the email said. “We have been in contact with both our school physician and with the office [that] is responsible for coordinating school health and safety with the Nassau County Health Department and with state and federal authorities. There have been no identified cases in our region, and thus no reason to alter our usual operations. However, what we can do is reinforce our usual flu season prevention practices.”
Xi’an is approximately 485 miles from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus. Prior to the cancellation, Rosenberg reaffirmed to parents and staff that the exchange students would have been in America for almost two weeks once they visit the district.
Jericho was also staying in touch with the students and their chaperones until the decision was made to cancel the visit on Monday evening.
“While we regret that our students will not have the benefit of this valuable experience, we are hopeful we will be able to reprise this exchange in the future,” Grishman said.
Additionally, Lunar New Year celebrations across the region were put on hold as worries spread about the emerging pathogen. To help ease concerns, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran held a press conference on Jan. 24 at Nassau University Medical Center with several county officials and health experts to brief the public on the virus and its relation to the county.
“We understand people are concerned, but we are urging everyone to stay calm as the risk to Nassau County is low at this time,” Curran said. “As always, we urge everyone to practice good hygiene and sanitary procedures. Wash your hands with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer when you can’t do that. Cover your mouth when you sneeze and stay home when you feel sick.”
Nassau County Department of Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein eased concerns by reminding the public that this is the height of flu season, and anybody who experiences coronavirus-like symptoms almost certainly just has the flu or a cold.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified around 110 people in the U.S. that met its criteria for possibly having coronavirus, which include a number of factors like recent travel to Wuhan, flu-like symptoms and lower respiratory issues, since the outbreak began. Eisenstein said one of those individuals was confirmed to have “passed through” Nassau County and was being tested, but officials have since confirmed that person tested negative.
Like other coronaviruses, a family of viruses that includes the common cold, SARS and MERS, the novel coronavirus (designated 2019-nCoV by the World Health Organization) detected in Wuhan causes symptoms that closely resemble those of the flu. Health experts say the major issues with the virus are its potential to cause possibly-fatal respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, as well as the possibility that its international spread might cause it to mutate in unforeseen ways. Wuhan has been placed under quarantine by the Chinese government, with the illness infecting more than 10,000 in China and killing about 300.
Currently, 2019-nCoV has been positively identified in eight people within four states (Washington, California, Arizona and Illinois) according to the CDC. Internationally, the disease has been detected in much of east and southeast Asia, with additional confirmed cases overseas. Since 2019-nCoV is a new pathogen, experts are still working on identifying basic information about the virus. The U.S. has warned citizens to avoid traveling to China.
Currently, the CDC has the only lab in the country that can reliably diagnose the novel coronavirus, but Eisenstein pointed out just about any general practice doctor could diagnose the flu. The CDC is updating their website as more information about the virus becomes available. Anybody who wants to find this information can visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov.
Mike Adams contributed to this report.