Fear and anger have gripped a New Jersey town, and the focus has zeroed in on the school district’s facilities and the handling of events by officials.
On September 25, a 4-year-old Hamilton Township, N.J., preschooler who attended the district’s elementary school passed away at home of what was determined to be enterovirus D68 (EV-D68). The virus, which attacks the respiratory system, is of greatest risk to infants, children and teenagers—basically, anyone that is of school age.
Education buildings are among the most heavily used facilities and typically have more people occupying the same space than any other building type. This makes it an ideal breeding ground for viruses such as EV-D68 which, according to the CDC, spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or touches a surface that is then touched by others.
Since the report of the 4-year-old’s death, additional cases have been reported in N.J. But it is not just a N.J. problem. The CDC confirmed that almost 700 infections in 44 states, including 14 in N.J., have been documented— all in children between ages 1 and 12. And school buildings are once again in the hot seat.
Teaching and learning always takes center stage when discussing school. But when tragic events such as this hit, suddenly the condition and management of the school building itself comes under intense scrutiny. But events such as this are not new for schools and universities. Most recently, education institutions found themselves on the front line of the H1N1 epidemic a few years ago. That is why it is so important to have an effective building maintenance plan in place, as well as crisis communication procedures regularly reviewed and practiced.
As this tragedy exemplifies, it is critical for education institutions to be vigilant when it comes to facility upkeep and maintenance, as well as be able to effectively communicate with students, staff and the community. While crisis plans will kick in during these trying times, there should be no underestimating the critical importance of regular maintenance and effective cleaning of school facilities in helping combat events such as this.