Miami Schools Take Steps To Protect Returning Students From Zika : Shots - Health News Mosquito repellent, long-sleeved shirts and pants are part of the plan, as well emails, texts and education about standing water. But controlling the spread of the virus is a major challenge.

Miami Schools Take Steps To Protect Returning Students From Zika

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Students returned to school today in Miami, and this year, there's a new concern - the threat of Zika. Nine schools in Miami-Dade County are in or near a zone where health officials have confirmed mosquitoes have been spreading the Zika virus. NPR's Greg Allen reports on the measures the school district is taking to protect students and to reassure parents.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Jose de Diego Middle School is in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood, an area known for its restaurants, cafes and street art. But it's also home to middle-class and low-income families, many newly arrived from places like Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti.

ALBERTO CARVALHO: Morning, Buddy - big handshake here - everything all right?


CARVALHO: Ready for school?


CARVALHO: All right.

ALLEN: Miami-Dade school district superintendent Alberto Carvalho was roaming the hallway today to check on how well the school is prepared for Zika. Over the weekend, school officials distributed cans of mosquito repellent to parents and made long-sleeved shirts and long pants available to students who need them.

Nearly a month ago, health officials confirmed that mosquitoes were spreading Zika in this neighborhood. Since then, the county has conducted intensive spraying and outreach. While health officials are optimistic about their efforts to control mosquitoes in this neighborhood, on Friday, they confirmed that Zika has now spread to another area several miles away on Miami Beach.

The start of the school year is always hectic. The principal of Jose de Diego Middle School, April Thompson-Williams, says Zika leaves parents with even more questions.

APRIL THOMPSON-WILLIAMS: They just want to know how to protect their children and ensure that they're safe when they come to school.

ALLEN: Kenyanna Darden brought her daughter Jaynela to school today. She said the school district seems to have a good plan in place to protect students.

KENYANNA DARDEN: They sent text messages, emails, voice mail, all that, all day, every day.

ALLEN: And what did they tell you? What kind of stuff?

DARDEN: Protect yourself with Off! spray before you come.

ALLEN: Another parent, Nicole Pugh, still has some worries.

NICOLE PUGH: Yeah, I worry about it, but I made sure she was sprayed and everything. But hopefully they'll take care of the situation.

ALLEN: Superintendent Alberto Carvalho was visiting schools in both of Miami's local Zika transmission zones today, spreading the message that students should wear repellent, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and that they should be in school.

CARVALHO: Every single school is air conditioned. Every single bus is air conditioned. There is no contact with areas that have, you know, standing water, and kids are well-protected in air conditioned areas. They're going to be fine.

ALLEN: Carvalho says recess and sports will go on as usual. Cyd Browne began her seventh grade engineering class today with a challenge.

CYD BROWNE: E Squad...


BROWNE: E Squad...


BROWNE: OK, so...

ALLEN: Browne's assignment for the class was to design a plan to protect an area from the mosquitoes that carry Zika.

BROWNE: So we're going to look to see the science behind of this, do our research and then come up with a solution to take back into the neighborhood to make sure that everyone knows to spill the water wherever there's standing water and to drain and cover.

And I want you to tell me what you know about the Zika virus, OK - what you know.

ALLEN: About a dozen students break into groups and begin problem solving. Every teacher at Jose de Diego Middle School started today with a Zika information session. For children and anyone who's not pregnant, the symptoms associated with Zika are usually mild, and most people don't even know they've had the disease.

But the chief of emergency medicine at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital, Bobby Kapur, says from a public health standpoint, it's crucial that students be protected from the disease.

BOBBY KAPUR: We have hundreds, maybe thousands of students clustered in one area, and they're - may get infected with a mosquito bite and bring those - bring that infection back into their local homes or local communities on their street.

ALLEN: Controlling the spread of Zika is a major challenge. Along with the two zones already identified, health officials say they're investigating possible cases of local Zika transmission in several other areas in south Florida. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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