After hearing several reports of a confirmed case of coronavirus within the Vashon Island School District, superintendent Slade McSheehy told parents and students there is none.
McSheehy sent that message in an email to constituents on Tuesday, March 3, shortly after The Beachcomber’s press deadline.
Though he had heard that that “a student and/or a parent from Vashon High School or McMurray Middle school has a confirmed case of Coronavirus,” Public Health – Seattle & King County has not reported any confirmed or suspected cases of Coronavirus to McSheehy or the district’s school nurses, according to McSheehy.
“In the event of a confirmed case, we would be notified immediately,” he wrote. “I will continue to report information to our school community as necessary to mitigate the spread of misinformation.”
Asked in an interview how he felt about the rumor, McSheehy said he was not disappointed or surprised.
“Facebook has a certain presence and is needed for social connections … but to manage and report out information in a potential pandemic, Facebook is not the best mechanism to communicate for our district,” he said.
McSheehy also expanded upon his understanding of how the rumor got started, saying he received emails and voicemails about it, which derived from a student, who said they “saw a student being quarantined” in the McMurray Middle School office.
When McSheehy heard about this, he spoke with the principals of each of the district’s three schools — McMurray, Chautauqua Elementary and Vashon Island High School — and the nurses and found the rumor of the incident being a confirmed case of coronavirus was false.
“There’s been no quarantine of a student in a middle school office,” McSheehy said. “We always have students in our offices for various reasons, some of them to see the nurse, some of them not to see the nurse.”
McSheehy felt a blast email to constituents was important to convey accurate information.
“People were worried,” he said.
McSheehy also mentioned a meeting of district leaders and stakeholders held on Monday to “discuss and plan for contingencies as well as answer some immediate questions and concerns brought forward by staff and families.” The consensus is that at some point in time, the island will see confirmed cases of coronavirus.
“I’m optimistic at this time because the information coming from King County … indicates that the population over 65 with underlying conditions that are the most vulnerable and that most people seem to be recovering at the rate they would with the regular flu,” McSheehy told The Beachcomber.
Tuesday night was not the first time McSheehy sent out an email to district constituents. He sent one the previous day, saying VISD schools would operate as scheduled at this time, following the guidance of Public Health – Seattle & King County. That guidance came from a letter the agency wrote to school administrators and nurses. Aside from pledging to keep school officials up to date on the coronavirus situation, Public Health said it would work with the state department of health to “develop resources to assist you in pandemic planning.”
Public Health also used the letter to emphasize the responsibility school officials had to its parents, students and staff.
“During this time of heightened anxiety, our community values are tested. We need to continue to demonstrate compassion and care as we navigate this global health situation,” Public Health’s letter said. “Please remind your students, their families, and your staff that COVID-19 infection is not connected with race, ethnicity, or nationality. Sharing accurate information is one of the best steps you can take to keep everyone healthy.”
The agency’s letter and McSheehy’s message come as as the number of coronavirus cases in King County continue to grow. According to Public Health, as of Tuesday, eight people in the county have died due to COVID-19 and the number of confirmed cases in that region stands at 21.