Responding to COVID-19 at Verbier International School

Following the recent outbreak of COVID-19, which is short for coronavirus disease 2019, the government of Switzerland has been vigilant in monitoring the situation.  Verbier International School (VIS) has immediately and carefully adhered to instructions issued by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

We value the well-being and health of our school community. This is why we are issuing regular updates to keep everyone informed on the steps the school is taking to handle the situation. Let’s discuss some of the actions and responses we have planned to promote optimal health among members of the VIS community.

Latest updates from the Swiss authorities

The first COVID-19 infection in Switzerland was confirmed on the 25th of February. These infections arose solely from visiting infected regions outside of Switzerland.  On Monday the 2nd of March, Swiss authorities stated that cases of infected people and future infections in the country were a reality. As the numbers increase, the government has been forced to propose new measures and guidelines to restrict the further spread of the disease.

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has come up with some recommendations which include:

  • Avoid handshaking as much as possible and practice safe disposal of used tissues. In this case, you need to dispose of them in sealed waste containers.
  • Wash your hands and make sure you are coughing and sneezing properly. The FOPH has reiterated the importance of washing hands thoroughly and is giving the public lessons on proper coughing and sneezing practices.
  • Do not faire la bise. Alain Berset, the interior minister who also handles health matters in the country has advised residents against the traditional three-kiss social greeting.
  • No public gatherings of more than 1000 people. The Swiss government has demonstrated the seriousness with which they are treating this issue by assuming control of the cantonal authorities to large gatherings.

These measures are meant to limit the advancement of COVID-19.

Recent COVID-19 Updates from VIS

According to the update released on the 28th of February, Swiss federal authorities have confirmed several new COVID-19 cases in Switzerland. As a result, we have taken measures to protect our school community:

  • We shall boost school cleaning processes while our daily educational activities continue.
  • We have decided to suspend all international trips.
  • We are interrogating any visitors coming to the school to establish whether they have been in any of the affected areas within the last 14 days.
  • We are continuing to educate both students and staff, and are reiterating the importance of proper hand-washing practices.

While we are doing everything possible to restrict exposure, we ask our school community members to remain vigilant.

  • Everybody has been tasked with observing their family members and friends closely. If you notice that anyone close to you has developed an unusual fever, get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Adhere to all instructions the doctor gives you to limit the infection rate. If you recently traveled to a quarantined region, you are obligated to stay away from the school for 14 days. You’ll also need to stay away from school for 14 days if you’ve had any close contact with a person who has been confirmed to be infected with the Coronavirus. Close contact, in this case, means being within a range of less than 1 meter for over 15 minutes.
  • All students and staff undergoing self-exclusion are requested and expected to inform the school.

Cantonal recommendations from Switzerland

According to the cantonal authorities, there are various recommended methods of COVID-19 suspicion as we shall see below.

●       Epidemiological Criteria

If you suspect that someone has been infected, you first need to establish whether:

  • They have taken a trip recently to South Korea, China, Italy, or Iran.
  • They are living in the same house and have been exposed via direct contact to biological or respiratory fluids.
  • They have been in close contact with someone confirmed through laboratory tests to be infected.

 

●       Clinical Criteria

 

➢     Severe signs of infection of the respiratory tract such as respiratory distress or coughing, and fever beyond 38 °C.

Diagnosis in this criterion is executed through laboratory analysis. Any unconfirmed cases should be evaluated further through lab tests. You can obtain comprehensive details on obtaining and shipping of samples from the CRIVE website

●       Reporting Criteria

 

  • Reporting to the cantonal doctors within two hours is mandatory. This includes any suspected cases or anyone who has been confirmed through laboratory diagnosis to be infected with the coronavirus.
  • All laboratories with confirmed or negative tests are obligated to make a declaration to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and to a cantonal doctor about the results acquired through sequence analysis or Polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

More information from the cantonal administration

Information from various cantons across Switzerland indicates that people returning home from affected regions but were not within the quarantined area can attend school. However, they will need to be monitored closely. Parents have been advised to record at least two temperature readings everyday. If they develop symptoms such as coughing, fever, or difficulties in breathing, the child should stay away from school.

The parents should also contact their doctor immediately. The staff of Verbier International School is holding daily meetings to discuss the situation as it evolves. We shall continue releasing updates and information whenever our position changes.

Statement from Verbier International School’s Head Teachers:

Dear Parents,

We are writing to reassure you about the precautions our school is continuing to take to protect against the Coronavirus outbreak.

We have been in constant contact with the Valais cantonal health authorities as well as with medical advisors. With the latest information from the World Health Organisation, we have taken steps to protect VIS from coronavirus.

What is Coronavirus?

It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huainan seafood wholesale market in the center of the Chinese city.

What are the symptoms of this virus?

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death. 

Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

What is the incubation period?

The “incubation period” means the time between catching the virus and beginning to have symptoms of the disease. Most estimates of the incubation period for coronavirus range from 1-14 days, most commonly around five days. These estimates will be updated regularly by the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

What should I do if I feel unwell at the moment?

Take normal steps to look after yourself, rest and stay at home until you feel better.

Based on the current advice from the World Health Organization there is no immediate cause for concern, however, based on WHO and cantonal health authorities, VIS are continuing and starting to take the following precautions:

  • All children will wash their hands regularly, and the school will continue to be cleaned twice a day.
  • Every student, parent or staff member should be vigilant about their own daily personal health and remain away from school if they develop a temperature, flu-like symptoms, cough, respiratory problems, and even a common cold. 
  • Each teacher will speak to their classes again at the start of the next half-term to remind them of the importance of maintaining good hygiene. 
  • If they show any of the symptoms above, you should seek medical advice as well as inform the school immediately. 
  • Please don’t send your children back to school unless they have fully recovered from any symptoms.
  • Since many of our school community travel outside Switzerland regularly it is important that we all remain vigilant. Any family who has been away this half-term in China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea or Italy must inform the school immediately. All family members must have been clear of any symptoms for 14 days after their return from traveling before children should return to school. Please inform the school immediately if this applies to you.
  • VIS will support affected families by preparing and following up with school work digitally.

This is to protect your communities as well as to support and protect ours. We apologise for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. When and if these policies change as the environment evolves over the coming weeks and months we will inform you as an organization.

Kind regards,

Mr Thibaut Descoeudres

Miss Julia Pickard

 

Finally

While we remain vigilant, we stress the importance of demonstrating our support for the affected people around us.

We are monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely in a bid to limit any exposure within our school community. Authorities at the school will continue deliberating on the best way forward. In case of any changes, we shall communicate them as soon as possible. Currently, we are evaluating upcoming school events and will release information as we make decisions based on the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) recommendations.