Schools Fight H1N1 With Common Sense, Prevention
Recommendations for upcoming school year focus on minimizing exposure, not closing schools.
By Kevin Hart
Monday, August 10, 2009 -- It may be Thanksgiving before many Americans have developed immunity to H1N1 “swine flu,” but schools can still play an aggressive role in preventing outbreaks. That was the message delivered by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Thomas Frieden in a joint news conference August 10 to discuss the H1N1 guidance being issued to schools for the upcoming school year.
Duncan predicted that “H1N1 is going to be an issue this school year,” but stressed that flu outbreaks can’t be allowed to derail student learning.
That means schools need to stop H1N1 in its tracks by educating students on basic hygiene and flu prevention, and by monitoring cases of H1N1 closely. Duncan said he’d also like to see schools use the Internet and other virtual technologies to make sure sick students can stay home without falling behind.
“The bottom line is, no matter what happens, we need to make sure students keep learning,” he said.
Both Duncan and Frieden stressed the importance of allowing decisions on flu response to be made at the local level. Frieden said the CDC has concluded that school closures are “rarely indicated” and do not seem to affect the number of H1N1 cases in a community.
Instead, he suggested temporary closings might be more appropriate for special schools that cater to high-risk populations, such as an alternative school for pregnant teens.
Frieden and Duncan asked parents and school employees to play an active role in preventing the spread of H1N1. For parents, that means keeping sick kids home until at least 24 hours after their fevers break. Administrators should have a plan to isolate students and staff who fall ill during the school day until they can be dismissed.
The first large batch of H1N1 vaccine should be available in October, but CDC believes it will take two inoculations, two weeks apart, before children develop immunity – in other words, probably November at the earliest.
Until that time, National Education Association members, such as custodians, will do their part to keep schools flu-free. Friedan stressed the importance of routine, thorough building cleaning as a strategy for flu prevention.
“We can’t stop the flu from happening,” Frieden said. “But we can decrease the number of people who become very ill from it.”
NEA has developed a graphic showing where germs are most likely to accumulate in schools, and has tips on cleaning for health offered by veteran school custodians. NEA also offers a variety of resources on H1N1 through its Health Information Network.