PIMA- As parents of certain Pima Elementary School parents impatiently wait to have their children tested for COVID-19 next week, Pima Unified School District Superintendent Sean Rickert is working to quell the fears of other parents within the district.
On Friday evening, PUSD informed the public that 5th and 6th grade students exhibiting symptoms of the virus should bring be brought to Pima Junior High School (192 East 200 South) on Monday, Tuesday or Friday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. for testing. They made the announcement upon learning a school employee had become the first person within Graham County to test positive for the illness.
The Graham County Health Department will run the tests through a state lab. Parents will not be charged a fee as the Arizona Department of Health Services will be picking up the tab, said Brian Douglas, health department director.
On Saturday afternoon, Rickert said the district will keep parents apprised of the latest developments via Facebook and they are encouraged to post any questions they may have. The page is being monitored and those questions will be answered.
Rickert said PUSD learned on Wednesday a staff member had been exposed to someone with COVID-19 during an out-of-state visit the weekend prior. That staff member had worked with the fifth and sixth graders on Tuesday and Wednesday. The decision was made to close school on Thursday. The health department is not testing any other students because the earliest the fifth and sixth graders could become contagious was Thursday – when school was closed.
The district has 166 fifth and sixth graders and the health department has six staff members calling each of their families to determine if they have any symptoms, if they've visited any health care officials and if they've been tested for COVID-19, Douglas said. Those staff members are also reassuring parents and providing guidance.
However, Douglas pointed out that the incubation period is two to 14 days and next week's clinics comes in the middle of that time period.
Even if children do contract the virus, Douglas said parents ought not be too concerned.
"Evidence to-date indicates that children 18 and under experience a mild form of this illness similar to a cold," Douglas said. "In fact, over 80 percent of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 in China experience a mild form of this virus. Those who have serious illness tend to be older adults and those with chronic health conditions."
The superintendent said the district is doing whatever it can to help the health department spread the message that it is just best for everyone to minimize social contact.
"The best way to stop this situation from crippling the health care industry is for people to stay home," Rickert said.
Douglas reiterated that point later Saturday afternoon. If everyone stays home, there is a better chance of containment. His primary concern is protecting the elderly and those with underlying health issues.
"We have to slow the spread," Douglas said.
Because there are a limited number of test kits in the state, health officials are only testing those who show symptoms of the virus. However, whether someone with COVID-19 is tested or not, the course of treatment would remain the same, Douglas said. That treatment would involve addressing the symptoms, which are similar to the flu, coughing and fever.
School superintendents from throughout Graham County are meeting with health officials Sunday to discuss the possibility of extending spring break, he said.
On Saturday, Emily Rhinehart was among the parents whose children are now under quarantine.
All three of Rhinehart's children attend PUSD schools, and while one of them was specifically flagged by the district to quarantine until March 25, she has opted to keep all her kids home as a precautionary measure to ensure the coronavirus does not spread.
“It’s just that it’s really hard to single out each child, clean common areas and isolate as much as you can. Have them hang out in their bedrooms? But I mean you can’t do that for two weeks," Rhinehart said. "It’s just not ideal. So for me it’s just basic hygiene with washing hands and making sure everyone is keeping their hands clean and we’re bleaching surfaces and we have diffusers running.”
Rhinehart said she intends to keep all of her kids home. Her children are older so entertaining them will not be too difficult. They'll play games, read books and watch television.
As long as none of her kids are showing symptoms, Rhinehart said she is only keeping them in the house and not separated from each other. Daily chores for the children will include mopping floors and cleaning surfaces. If one of the children has a fever, however, Rhinehart said that she will separate her household into sick and not sick halves.
“I feel like we all need to just practice cleanliness and sanitation,” said Rhinehart.
“It (the quarantine) hasn’t affected me. I think the paranoia is a factor in the adult portion of it. Worried that you’re going to be exposed, and fear of the unknown. Because it’s new and kind of widespread," Rhinehart said. "But it hasn’t affected me, I’m still going to go to work, I’m still going to live my life. I’m going to do everything that I can like normal. Keep my house clean, keep the kids clean, wash my hands and don’t touch my face.”
Rhinehart said she doesn't have to work if she feels as if she has been exposed and that gives her comfort – knowing she will not lose her job.