Leon County schools will soon start, and officials are preparing to make sure parents and kids are Zika prepared.
While health officials recently confirmed Leon’s first case of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, County School spokesman Chris Petley says it’s important to note that case is travel-related.
“And, I think that’s important to make that distinction that it’s not a factor of being bit by a mosquito that’s locally grown,” said Petley. “So, we are working in partnership with the Leon County Health Department and the Leon County government. Really, after meeting with them the past week or so, the number one thing that we think we can do is to help prevent the spread of mosquitoes.”
Petley says school officials are focused on making sure everyone knows about getting rid of potential breeding sites for mosquitoes: anywhere that could pool water.
“And, we’ll be working with our school campuses, our principals and our leaders on our campuses to ensure that they are cognizant and aware of any remaining water on our campuses,” he added. “Especially given the last couple of days of torrential rain here in Tallahassee, we’ll be vigilant to make sure that we’re eliminating any standing water. The Health Department, again, has again told us that that’s the number one thing that we can do. They have a campaign called “Spill the Water.”
Last month, Florida’s Health Department unveiled that “Spill the Water” campaign aimed at teaching kids about mosquitoes and the diseases they can carry, like the Zika virus. Released during the Summer, it came with education materials as well as a 30-second video called “Spill the Water Heroes.”
Leon County schools are set to open Monday, but many schools opened Wednesday—which is why Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says she’s making sure all students are already prepared.
Her plan includes requiring schools, colleges, and universities to have procedures in place to deal with suspected Zika cases. Stewart says there’s also a “teacher toolkit” for all grade levels.
“It’s information to be provided to our teachers so they can inform their students—who very often then take that information home to their parents—and, so, we’ll be providing that to [school] districts,” said Stewart, speaking recently to reporters. “We’re also working with the Department of Health on what else will be in that kit.”
Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip, who leads the state Health Department, says her agency is looking to provide mosquito repellent to all schools as well.
“We are in the process of making sure that every school and university setting in the state will have repellent that can be given to students or those that will enter the campus,” she said. “So, we think along the messaging, we are providing people with a tool. ‘We’re telling you to use repellent. Now, here’s a repellent.’ And, it’s been shown in other places to be effective when you couple the two together.”
But, Petley says Leon County school officials don’t plan to distribute mosquito repellent to area schools.
“You know, we are very aware of the impact that mosquito repellent can have if it’s put in the presence of maybe a child with asthma or a child with another reaction,” he said. “What we are suggesting is that if parents would like to be extra prepared, they can spray their children with bug repellent, prior to coming to school campuses. And, in more drastic measures, they can work with their individual school to …. Bug repellent with their child. But, the application of the bug repellent would have to be done in accordance to how the school would want to do that.”
Petley says the district also sent out an e-mail to parents Wednesday informing them about the “Spill the Water campaign” and other prevention measures they can take to stop the spread of mosquitoes.
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