Schools throughout the region announced additional precautionary measures Thursday to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus; a pandemic which has led to the cancellation of numerous public events across the area and now includes one person in Northampton County who has tested positive and is reported to be hospitalized at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus in Bethlehem Township.
Saucon Valley School District superintendent Dr. Craig Butler stopped short of canceling classes in a letter sent to parents Thursday afternoon, however he indicated that doing so is still a possibility.
“In light of a possible closure, on Friday, March 13, families of students in K-2 will begin to see additional resources come home with their children while students in grades 3-6 will be bringing home the iPad and charger they use in school,” Butler said. “We ask that students bring these items back and forth to school until such time they are recollected.”
The district also announced that effective Friday all school-sponsored field trips were being suspended until further notice, and that beginning Saturday all district indoor and outdoor facilities will be off-limits to groups and events not directly connected to a school-sponsored activity.
“This includes all youth/community activities, non-school-related clubs or functions, the recreational swim program and any other outside groups,” a statement published on the district website indicated. “No use of any indoor or outdoor facility on Saucon Valley School District property will be permitted by non-school-related functions until further notice. At this time, all school-related functions such as club, activities and athletics will continue but will be monitored daily.”
Butler in his letter to parents noted that there is currently no recommendation to close schools in Pennsylvania.
“As of the time of this letter on March 12, 2020, there are no diagnosed cases of COVID-19 within the Saucon Valley School District,” he said.
In a followup email with Saucon Source, Butler confirmed that he was aware of Saucon Valley students who recently returned from a trip to a country where there has been a high concentration of coronavirus cases reported.
“They were checked by our school nurse for symptoms aligned with coronavirus,” he said. “None of the children exhibited signs of infection. However, in consultation with the state department of health, and in agreement with the parents, the students were excluded from school for a period of time. Our understanding is that the children are healthy and have never shown any signs of illness.”
It was not immediately clear when the students returned, how many students were abroad or whether they tested negative for coronavirus.
Anyone who’s traveled to countries that have been classified under a Level 3 Travel Health Notice is being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days from the time they left the area and “to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus,” Butler said.
“Those who are experiencing symptoms of illness should consult a medical professional,” he said in the letter. “SVSD is asking families to review the information and consider all recommendations provided by the CDC and alert their school nurse if they have traveled to one of these countries. Families are reminded that applicable students who stay home for 14-day quarantine periods will receive excused absences. We request that any adult who traveled to such locations refrain from visiting our schools in person during this 14-day period.”
Most public schools in the Lehigh Valley had not announced plans to close as of late Thursday, however a number of private and parochial schools are closed Friday due to the coronavirus.
St. Theresa School in Hellertown is one of the Catholic institutions affected by a Diocese of Allentown decision to close schools for “deep cleaning” Thursday and Friday.
In a letter to parents Thursday, St. Theresa principal Deacon Peter Schutzler announced that Friday’s Lenten fish dinner as well as a school open house and Teen Bingo event scheduled for Sunday are also canceled.
“The measures taken by the Diocese are out of an abundance of caution,” he said. “If someone tests positively for the virus or has been in direct contact with someone who has tested positively, we ask that you contact the school immediately.”
Schutzler also noted that confirmations scheduled for this weekend have been postponed.
The impact from the coronavirus’s spread continues to be felt at local institutions of higher learning as well.
After announcing Wednesday that dorms and classrooms would close for two weeks, Lehigh University president John Simon said Thursday that all learning will be conducted remotely for the remainder of the second semester.
“Several new developments have led us to conclude that conducting classes remotely for the remainder of the semester (through the end of final exams on Wednesday, May 13) is necessary and in the best interest of the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff, and of the greater Bethlehem community,” Simon said in a letter. “These extraordinary times require extraordinary measures…”
Statewide, the most affected county in terms of the number of confirmed and presumptive positive coronavirus cases to date has been Montgomery County, which had nine cases as of Thursday afternoon out of 22 across the Commonwealth.
For that reason, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that all schools, daycares, community centers, gyms and entertainment venues in Montgomery County will be closed for 14 days beginning Friday.
Wolf’s office also announced that a no-visitor policy will be instituted at nursing homes and prisons there, and recommended that owners of non-essential retail facilities close them.
Local businesses in Saucon Valley are remaining open, but are nonetheless being impacted by the coronavirus, with many are reaching out to customers to assure them that proper health and safety precautions are being taken.
In an email announcement Thursday, Braveheart Highland Pub owner Andy Lee said St. Patrick’s Day festivities will take place Tuesday, however with some changes to help ensure that everyone who attends them remains healthy.
“We will be closely monitoring how many customers are in the building,” Lee said. “If it becomes too crowded, we may have to turn people away in order to keep it a safer environment for everyone. We advise making reservations, and hope that we can accommodate and honor everyone. This is, of course, hurting our businesses, but everyone’s wellbeing and safety is much more important to us, so please respect any decisions made this coming weekend and on St. Patrick’s Day.”
Lee also announced that beginning Wednesday, March 18, both Braveheart–which is located in Hellertown–and Taps Tavern in Lower Saucon Township will begin offering food delivery service daily from 4 to 8 p.m., within a 10-mile radius of the eateries.
Lost Tavern Brewing in Hellertown and Bethlehem emailed customers Thursday to tell them that “extra cleaning procedures have been put in place” at both taprooms and to request that they refrain from handshaking and use other non-contact forms of greeting for the time being; something Steel Club in Hellertown also advised on Wednesday.
In addition to the cases in Northampton and Montgomery counties, there have been confirmed or presumptive positive cases of coronavirus reported in Philadelphia (one), Delaware County (one), Bucks County (two), Monroe County (two), Pike County (one) and Wayne County (one) to date, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Major events that would have brought hundreds if not thousands of people together in close proximity to one another–such as the Lehigh Valley Auto Show and Saturday’s Parade of Shamrocks in Bethlehem–have been postponed or canceled altogether by organizers due to the virus’s spread.
There have been no quarantine orders issued in Pennsylvania, however local supermarkets Thursday afternoon were jam-packed with shoppers who appeared to be stocking up on food, water, toilet paper and other supplies in the event that there would be a widespread disruption to normal activities as a result of the illness’s spread.
The so-called “panic buying” has led to widespread shortages of items such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, aerosol disinfectant and other items, with some stores placing limits on the number that may be purchased at one time.
At Starbucks in Bethlehem Township, signs posted at the store’s registers informed customers that refillable cups are temporarily banned from use due to the coronavirus.
For updates on the virus refer to the Pennsylvania Department of Health website and continue to follow local media sources.