Montana District Superintendents:
We are writing in response to public interest in the coronavirus (COVID-19) and to provide you with information to keep your school and community informed and safe. We are monitoring the situation closely with our local, state and federal partners. There are currently no positive cases of COVID-19 in Montana. However, as with any infectious disease, schools and communities should practice preventative measures and be prepared to respond to infectious diseases should they impact your community.
The new school health and safety rules from the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) require schools to have communicable or infectious illness procedures requiring someone with a possible infectious disease to be isolated and potentially evaluated in coordination with the local health department. This protocol will help you not only respond to distant threats such as COVID-19 but also to more immediate threats in Montana such as norovirus or flu outbreaks
First and foremost, the OPI, DPHHS, and CDC encourage schools to practice basic preventative measures including keeping sick students and faculty home, regularly washing hands and having hand sanitation stations available, as well as avoiding transmission through sanitary practices. Your school may consider a review of current methods for cleaning and sanitizing high-risk areas during respiratory season if this is not already a current practice.
At this time, given the absence of COVID-19 cases in the state and region:
- No activities or plans should be canceled or postponed.
- Steps to prevent the spread of any infectious illness, including influenza, should be emphasized.
- Consultation with local public health officials prior to issuing health messages or modifying activities is strongly encouraged.
Your local county health department is your best resource for getting updates on infectious diseases and how to handle them should they impact your community. DPHHS and the CDC provide regular updates to local health departments. Additionally, DPHHS has created a COVID-19 specific webpage with information and resources. The CDC also maintains a webpage with COVID-19 information.
In the event of a COVID-19 impact to Montana, more information will be communicated to you by state and federal officials. Any suspected cases of COVID-19 should be reported to your local health department. If you are unable to reach your local health department you may call DPHHS at 406-444-0273. This number is answered 24/7. In the event of an outbreak in your community, your local health department along with the assistance of state and federal officials will be leading response and coordination efforts.
The OPI has resources available to assist in creating or updating an Emergency Operations Plan. Please contact Tracy Moseman at email@example.com to learn about free on-site technical assistance opportunities, or visit Emergency Planning and Safety for planning guides and resources.
Thank you for your vigilance in keeping your students, staff, and community protected from infectious diseases.
School Health & Safety
Montana Office of Public Instruction
Dr. Greg Holzman
Chief Medical Officer
State of Montana
UPDATES AS OF MARCH 12th
Key Updates: (In addition to the previous guidance that was sent out on February 28th)
- The Governor established a coronavirus taskforce which the OPI serves on. The OPI has also participated in conference calls with the White House and U.S. Department of Education.
- New web resources: https://www.ed.gov/coronavirus [ed.gov], https://dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/cdepi/diseases/coronavirusmt, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html [cdc.gov]
- Congress passed an $8 billion COVID-19 aid package. Montana will get about $5 million most of which will go to DPHHS to disburse to local health departments.
- OPI has applied for a waiver from USDA. The waiver will allow eligible Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) sponsors to provide grab and go meals rather than the normally required congregate meal service. We have our SFSP applications ready to begin as soon as we get USDA approval and sponsors know about school closures. We can approve the sponsor applications quickly. The sponsors are responsible for their own food procurement, preparation and delivery.
- In the event of extended school closures made through advice from local health departments, OPI will seek additional waivers and extensions for impacted federal programs. The U.S. Department of Education will consider case by case waivers and extensions to federal program requirements.
- Montana’s University System has moved all of its campuses to online-only [billingsgazette.com] (although campuses are not closed).
- Local health departments are the lead agencies for responding to any localized COVID-19 outbreaks. You should consult with them before making any decisions to cancel regularly scheduled events or classes.
- In the event of a large community outbreak, OPI will work with the Governor’s office to secure an emergency declaration to waive certain per-pupil-instruction hour requirements to ensure that you can send students and staff home for an extended period of time without losing state funding.
- Schools should develop a plan to provide educational services if schools are closed by developing lesson plans in advance to send home or providing some form of virtual learning.
- As always, best practices for sanitation should be promoted and sick students/staff should stay home.
- There are currently no COVID-19 cases in Montana but we expect it to make its way here eventually.
- The OPI has resources available to assist in creating or updating an Emergency Operations Plan. Please contact Tracy Moseman at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about free on-site technical assistance opportunities, or visit Emergency Planning and Safety for planning guides and resources.