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IDPH COVID-19 webinars discuss preparedness for Iowa colleges, universities, childcare

Each webinar details guidelines that'll help these establishments contain and combat a coronavirus outbreak.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Department of Public Health is urging every public establishment to prepare for not if, but when COVID-19 spreads into Iowa.

The IDPH hosted two seminars on Tuesday, one for colleges and universities, the other for childcare services, with emphasis on how they should brace for the impact of the coronavirus.

The IDPH says they will be scheduling more seminars on other topics. 

Colleges and Universities

Much like K-12 schools, colleges and universities have a specific guidance sheet on what they should prepare for.

Keeping emergency plans up-to-date

Their first tip is to review, update and enforce emergency plans in cooperation with local public health partners. The plans should be built on everyday policy and procedures, like teaching common sense hygiene and practicing it.

Monitor and plan for absenteeism

The IDPH says colleges and universities should know their usual absent numbers this time of year, especially with the flu going around. In the case of lots of absences, consider identifying and implementing processes for faculty and Institute of Higher Education (IHE) leaders to report noticeable changes to a designated administrator.

Be sure to alert public health officials about large increases in student, staff and faculty absences or noticeable increases in visits to student health centers.

The IDPH can't stress this enough- don't go to campus if you are sick. College and universities should be flexible with illnesses and even allow someone to stay home to care for a sick family member.

Making accommodations for students who are unable to attend class because of possible exposure to COVID-19 is highly recommended as well.

Pay close attention to critical job functions and positions that may need to be filled. Cross-training staff is beneficial for this purpose.

Lastly, determine what level of absenteeism will disrupt the continuity of teaching, learning and research. 

Establish procedures for students and staff that get sick on campus

If someone is sick or gets sick on campus, send them back to their residence. The IDPH says this should be done as soon as possible. 

Isolating those that are sick from those that are well is necessary to limit the spread of any illness.

Sick students that live in on-campus housing communities that are not believed to have been exposed to COVID-19 should avoid contact with others.

Perform routine cleaning

If something is touched frequently, the IDPH says to make sure it's cleaned frequently. Providing disposable wipes and other cleaners is recommended.

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Create plans to communicate accurate and timely information to IHE communities

The IDPH says having a communication strategy for sharing information is crucial to keeping the community informed. These strategies should focus on providing information without spreading fear or stigma.

Consider canceling or postponing student exchange programs

The IDPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say canceling these trips may be necessary to keep students and staff safe. Students may face unpredictable circumstances while traveling.

When cases are identified in the community...

The IDPH says IHEs should NOT make decisions about dismissal or canceling events on their own. They should look to the IDPH and their local public health department to determine if and when they should consider canceling or postponing anything.

More information about what IHEs should do can be found on the IDPH's coronavirus section on their website.

Childcare Homes and Centers

Review and update emergency procedures

The IDPH wants childcare homes and centers to look over their current procedures to reduce the spread of illnesses. Emphasize common-sense preventative actions for kids and staff, like staying home if you're sick, washing your hands and covering your coughs and sneezes.

Monitor and plan for absenteeism

The IDPH wants childcare homes and centers to do the following when it comes to monitoring and planning for absenteeism:

  1. Review the usual absenteeism patterns at your child care center or child care home among both children and staff.
  2. Review attendance and sick leave policies.
  3. Encourage children and staff to stay home when sick.
  4. Use flexibility, when possible, to allow staff to stay home to care for sick family members. 
  5. Identify critical job functions and positions, and plan for alternative coverage by cross-training staff.
  6. Determine what level of staff absenteeism will disrupt your ability to provide childcare.

Establish procedures for children and staff who get sick at the childcare center or home

In the event of someone becoming sick at the childcare center or showing up sick, send them home as soon as possible. Be sure to keep sick children and staff separate from well children and staff.

The IDPH says child care providers are not expected to screen kids or other staff members for COVID-19. Look to local health officials for that. Sharing resources with child care families to help them understand when to keep kids home is very important. 

Perform routine cleaning

As said above for colleges and universities, if something is touched frequently, the IDPH says to make sure it's cleaned frequently. Providing disposable wipes and other cleaners is recommended.

When cases are identified in the community...

The first step is to consult the IDPH or local health department when making decisions to close because of COVID-19. These decisions are made case-by-case.


Working with the media

The IDPH wants you to be prepared to work with the media should anything happen in your school community. 

Here's what you should know when communicating with the media:

  • be prompt, keep communication up
  • avoid speculation
  • acknowledge uncertainty and anxiety
  • be transparent, but always put confidentiality first 

Other resources

The IDPH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are updating data on COVID-19 constantly. The IDPH's website updates their numbers every Monday, Wednesday and Friday with information from the state of Iowa.

The CDC updates their website every Monday, Wednesday and Friday as well for U.S. cases.