Coronavirus: Local schools, EMA prepared, not panicked

Tribune readers are reporting a shortage of items such as hand sanitizer at area retailers. This photo was taken at the CVS Pharmacy at 610 Second Ave. NW in Cullman Monday afternoon, March 9, 2020. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – As of Monday evening, there are no reported cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the disease known as COVID-19, in Alabama. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), the situation regarding COVID-19 continues to evolve rapidly. Johns Hopkins University & Medicine reports, as of late Monday, 113,584 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide, with 3,996 deaths and 62,496 recoveries.

Johns Hopkins daily “situation report” for March 9 stated, “Updated reports share that there are more than 500 cases and 22 deaths tied to the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. Washington state, one of the areas where the virus has hit the hardest, reported 136 cases and 18 deaths, the majority of which are tied to King County (where Seattle is located). California reported 114 confirmed cases and 1 death tied to the outbreak, and New York state reported 105 total cases. There are now reported cases in at least 34 states and Washington, DC.”

Johns Hopkins’ Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., senior director of infection prevention, said in a reviewed article, “As of Mar. 9, 2020, the flu is showing much more of an impact on Americans than COVID-19.” (Read the full article at

Local response

The response from local emergency management and heath care personnel has been one of preparedness, not panic.

“Cullman Regional continues to monitor updates regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19). Our team is working closely with the Alabama Department of Public Health to stay abreast of the latest developments with the virus, and we will continue to work with our public health officials to stay as prepared as possible. Cullman Regional also has an internal team prepared to care for patients exposed to special pathogens such as Coronavirus. Cullman Regional’s safety and treatment protocols include following the recommended screening process developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” said a statement from Cullman Regional.

“The Cullman County Emergency Management Agency (CCEMA) is working with the Alabama EMA, (Alabama) Department of Public Health, regional healthcare coalitions and local government to monitor the latest information and updates,” said Cullman EMA Director Phyllis Little. “A link to the CDC COVID-19 website ( has been added to our webpage at The website has the latest information, recommendations and print materials for businesses, schools and communities.”  

Continued Little, “Cullman EMA will continue to monitor the situation and work with local and state health officials to ensure that our community has access to the latest information and recommendations.”

Local public schools

Both Cullman County Schools and Cullman City Schools say they are monitoring the situation closely.

“We continue to emphasize good hygiene techniques and thorough cleaning practices throughout our school system.  If cases do appear locally appropriate measures will be taken to limit exposure to the virus,” said Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette. “As of Monday afternoon, a link will be placed on our district website that will include information about the coronavirus and how CCBOE will respond if or when cases are discovered locally.  The most important thing to remember at this time is for everyone not to panic and continue to emphasize with their children the importance of washing their hands and to keep their hands away from their faces.  Cullman County Schools will continue to stay in communication with ADPH, CDC and ALSDE as they make any additional recommendations concerning the coronavirus.”  

Barnette shared the following letter on behalf of the Cullman County School Board (CCBOE) Monday afternoon:

At a time of recent increased media coverage concerning the coronavirus or COVID-19, I wanted to reach out and make sure you all are as informed as you can be concerning the virus. Our school system, as are all school systems in Alabama, are in close contact the Alabama State Department of Education and the Alabama State Department of Public Health concerning the virus outbreak occurring around the globe. Recent cases regarding community spread (person-to-person) raises some concerns and questions for many people. I hope to alleviate some of that stress, by explaining what we know and what our plan is as a school system. The virus has not yet surfaced in Alabama, while it has been confirmed in neighboring states, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia. Anyone who meets these criteria should refrain from coming to school and contact their healthcare provider immediately for instructions.

  • Traveled outside of the United States
  • Had close contact with someone who recently traveled internationally and was sick, and who now has:
    • Fever
    • Cough
    • Trouble Breathing

The immediate risk of the coronavirus to the American public is believed to be low at this time, we are taking precautions to help respond in this public health threat:

  • Everyday preventative actions include: o Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
    • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
    • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
    • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.


  • Classroom preventative actions include: o Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Play a game with students to teach them how to properly wash their hands such as singing through the ABCs while washing his or her hands.
  • Promote to students not to touch their faces.


Thank you,

Shane Barnette, superintendent

Kayla Burgess, lead nurse


The CCBOE also released the following document Monday afternoon:


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus is a new virus that first appeared in China in December 2019. The name corona comes from the spike like extensions of the virus that makes it look like a crown. Coronaviruses are very common in animals, the COVID-19 virus likely came from bats, it has the same sequence as MERS and SARS which also originated in bats. The virus has spread throughout China, Italy, and Iran, while countries report new cases every day. Right now, the greatest risk of infection is dependent on exposure. The following procedures will be taken, should the coronavirus be deemed a pandemic and spreads to our area.

Step 1: Establish a decision-making body

  • Shane Barnette- Superintendent
  • Kayla Burgess- Lead Nurse
  • April Tucker- Federal Programs
  • Anita Kilpatrick- Curriculum
  • Jeff Harper- Transportation
  • Bruce Ellard- Technology
  • Karen Pinion- Counselors


Step 2: Implementation measures to reduce disease transmission

  • Encourage students/faculty to stay home if they develop symptoms:
    • Symptoms of COVID-19
      • Fever
      • Cough
      • Shortness of breath
    • Promote hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette:
      • Washing hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water
      • Coughing and/or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue
      • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
    • Promote avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • Prepare facilities to isolate students and staff who become ill while at school:
      • Sick students/staff will wait in the school’s health room until parent pick up.
      • Make arrangements with office staff letting them know students will be kept in the health room until parent pick up, will not be allowed to walk back through the school or to the office for pick up, unless escorted by a nurse.
    • Face masks will be placed on students who may possibly be infected for protection of other students and staff members.
    • Try to reduce crowding:
    • Few to no assemblies, reduce mass gatherings of students
    • Possibly cancel sporting events if deemed necessary
    • Aim for natural ventilation and proper cleaning of school environment:
      • Continue to clean and disinfect schools with the Clorox 360 machines and other cleaning materials
      • Individual teachers clean rooms and areas assigned to them on a daily basis
    • Disseminate relevant public health messages:
      • Relay informative messages to staff and parents as necessary


Step 3: Assess the role of school closures:

  • Decision will be made by superintendent with guidance of ADPH, CDC, ALSDE, and authoritative body about closing school
  • If the decision is made to keep schools open, then refer back to step 2
  • If the decision is to close schools:
    • Clearly communicate with parents and the media
    • Develop alternative learning strategies
      • Online learning
      • Mailed assignments
    • Resume classes/re-open schools
      • After 1-2 incubation periods, ideally
      • Refer back to step 2 if outbreak continues

Find out more at

Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Patterson provided the following statement Monday regarding the city school system’s current plan regarding the coronavirus, saying, “If the situation changes with the coronavirus from its current state, Cullman City Schools will adjust our plans accordingly including instructional options with guidance from the named agencies.”

Cullman City Schools is aware of the growing concern over the coronavirus and the possibility of future implications it may have on our system. Cullman City Schools will be taking direction from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Alabama Department of Public Health, and Alabama State Department of Education.

We will continue normal operations and will monitor the situation, notifying parents should there be any change.  

Guidance for Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 from Alabama Department of Public Health:

Students or staff members who return from an affected area who develop symptoms compatible with COVID-19 such as fever, cough, or difficulty breathing within their 14-day monitoring period, should take the following steps: 

  1. Separate themselves from others as much as possible. Immediately notify ADPH Infectious Diseases & Outbreaks Division at 1-800-338-8374.
  2. If they experience an urgent health situation, seek medical care right away. Before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell staff about recent travel and symptoms.
  3. Restrict travel to private vehicle or medical transport (e.g., ambulance). No public transportation while sick.

Persons who become symptomatic will require written physician clearance to return to school. Additional guidance from CDC on returning travelers is available at 

It is important that students and staff without a history of travel or contact to a person with known COVID-19 take every day preventative actions: 

Stay home when sick. 

  1. Students and staff who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are asked to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [37.8°C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering  medicines (e.g. cough suppressants). 
  2. Seek immediate medical care if symptoms become severe, such as high fever or difficulty breathing.

Encourage students and staff to use “respiratory etiquette” through education and provision of supplies.

  1. Cover cough with a tissue or sleeve. See CDC’s Cover Your Cough page. (
  2. Provide adequate supplies within easy reach, including tissues and no-touch trash cans.
  3. Routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects.
  4. Separate sick students and staff from others until they can go home.
  5. Encourage flu vaccine for those who have not had it this season to reduce illnesses and absences on campus (however, this will not prevent coronavirus illnesses).
  6. Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  7. Avoid touching face with unwashed hands.
  8. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

For additional information, please contact ADPH at (334) 206-5971 or visit the ADPH website at    

Gauging Tribune readers’ response

The Tribune published a poll early Monday morning, asking, “Coronavirus: Are you concerned or taking any precautions?”

As of 4:30 p.m. Monday, 238 readers (21%) answered yes, while 877 (79%) said no.

Where to go for more information


Johns Hopkins University:

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Wendy Sack