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Blue Earth schools prepare for H1N1 flu

By Staff | Sep 21, 2009

Blue Earth Area School District officials are doing everything they can to prepare for the influenza season, in particular the H1N1 flu.

School nurse Sharon Hoyt told school board members Monday night that she and Superintendent Dale Brandsoy have been busy this summer working with county and state health officials to develop a plan.

“Our job is to keep day to day operations running and our schools open. We don’t want to see everything collapse,” Hoyt says.

The Minnesota Department of Health and school districts across the state plan to follow the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not to close schools unless large numbers of students and teachers get sick.

While the H1N1 virus has proven fatal in some cases, Hoyt says state officials have told school districts that many people will probably get the H1N1 flu.

“It’s (the concern) not about the severity of the disease but more about how many get sick. Our goal is to flatten that peak,” she says.

Board member Dr. Terry Cahill emphasized that H1N1 flu shouldn’t be considered any more serious than the regular seasonal flu.

“We need to keep this in perspective. Between 30,000 and 40,000 die each year from seasonal flu,” he says.

To help reassure parents that the district is addressing the issue, letters have been sent to parents instructing them what to do if their child contracts flu-like symptoms.

The message is clear and simple:

“Keep kids at home if they are sick. We don’t want to have to close schools if too many students get sick,” says Hoyt.Usual precautionary steps to prevent the spreading of flu, such as teaching children to thoroughly wash their hands and covering coughs and sneezes, are outlined in the letter.

Parents are being advised to keep children home if they have a fever of at least 100 degrees and a cough or sore throat. Children should stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever has gone away, which usually means five to seven days.

Prior to the start of school a workshop was held for staff members.

Hoyt says teachers are being asked not to overreact to “crazy news reports” regarding H1N1.

“We want our staff to be role models and practice good hygiene too,” he says. “If you take care of yourself, in turn you take care of the children.”

Parents also are being encouraged not to rush their sick children to a medical facility.

Hoyt says the district and local medical clinic have taken a “team effort” on working on a prevention plan.

“We don’t want sick people flooding the clinic. They are understaffed as it is,” she says.

Brandsoy says the district has purchased hand sanitizers and put up posters in the schools promoting good hygiene.

The state is keeping tabs on the number of children with flu-like symptoms.

Schools must fill out a report form if the number of students with the flu reaches 5 percent of the total school enrollment or three or more elementary students from the same class are absent or have been sent home.

Hoyt says each school building has a room where students with flu symptoms can be kept away from the public and other students. They would be supervised until a parent picks them up.

Some face masks also have been ordered. But, Hoyt says they will not be used unless state officials tell them to.