As the first case of Coronavirus appears in New York state, it is in the best interest of school districts and employers to understand and be prepared for issues related to Coronavirus.
2019 Novel (new) Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a respiratory illness caused by a virus first detected in Wuhan City, China. The virus has spread internationally to at least 37 countries, including the United States. As of this writing, health officials have reported the first confirmed case of Coronavirus in New York state; and over 100 people on Long Island are being tested and monitored for the virus.
Guidance on responding to Coronavirus
Hospitals and medical agencies do not have the capabilities to test for the virus, and all samples must be sent directly to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) for testing. For its part, the CDC established an incident management system, issued travel recommendations and established clinical guidance.
Recently, the New York State Education Department and New York State Department of Health issued Joint Guidance. This guidance reminds districts that while student health information may be confidential pursuant to FERPA (unless an exception applies), New York Education Law § 906 requires a district’s director of the health services to notify a local public health agency if a student shows symptoms of any communicable or infectious disease reportable under the public health law “that imposes a significant risk of infection of others in the school.” The district is also to exclude the student from school. However, it also emphasizes and reminds districts that students should not be excluded from school or any school activities based on race, country of origin or recent travel, including to any part of China.
These concerns are equally applicable in the employment context. Employers should make sure that precautionary measures are based on objective evidence and applied consistently. If a precautionary measure has a disparate impact on a protected group or involves impermissible medical inquiries, it could expose employers to discrimination claims.
Any individual who exhibits symptoms or believes that they have been exposed should be immediately referred to their local health department, and asked to leave school property. The local health department will be able to assist in determining where that person should be referred and evaluated. A quarantine period of at least fourteen (14) days is a recommended practice for any individual who has traveled to any of the locations where the virus has been confirmed. The CDC also offers recommendations for those ill with the virus.
Without the ability to diagnose the illness rapidly, additional exposure may occur. Additionally, individuals who have tested positive for the virus may not have immediately exhibited symptoms, potentially causing further transmission.
Developing an Illness Preparedness Plan
Employers and school districts should consider developing and/or updating an Illness Preparedness Plan that considers the following issues:
- What cleaning precautionary measures should be implemented? How should desks, lockers, classrooms and cafeterias be cleaned?
- Should cleaning staff be provided protective masks and/or clothes?
- Does the nursing staff have enough necessary medical supplies? Is there a room dedicated to health needs for those with an illness (so as to limit contact and spreading of any illness)?
- Can remote capabilities be utilized for students or employees?
- Can employees work remotely? Can technology be utilized to minimize unnecessary travel?
- Does the district have the capability to put into effect at-home/distance learning and teaching assignments for its students, possibly for an extended period of time? How could those measures be implemented? Considerations for students without access to computers and/or broadband internet need to be made.
- Will employees be asked to remain home? How will this affect salaried and non-salaried employees?
- How will employers respond to employees who do not wish to remain home?
- What additional measures might be necessary in the event there is a confirmed case of Coronavirus?
School districts should also consider providing a communication to parents of students, as well as to its employees, regarding guidance on preventative actions: for example, to avoid contact with people who are sick, perform recommended disinfectant and cleaning strategies, and stay home if exposed or believed to be sick. Additionally, this communication can set forth any planning the district is currently involved in and/or steps the district may take to address any potential outbreak. SED has provided a sample letter districts can use for a communication to parents.
Additional resources can be found at:
This alert does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on specific matters.
Harris Beach has offices throughout New York State, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Melville, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, Uniondale and White Plains, as well as New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey.