Chicago » The number of students staying home sick with the flu is multiplying nationwide and normally quiet school nurses' offices suddenly look like big-city emergency rooms, packed with students too ill to finish the day.
The federal government has urged schools to close because of the H1N1 swine flu only as a last resort. But schools are closing by the dozens as officials say they are being hit so hard and fast by the virus that shutting down for a few days is the only feasible option.
"There was nothing else we could do," said Michael Frechette, the superintendent of Connecticut's Middletown Public Schools where a middle school closed for the rest of the week after 120 students stayed home sick Monday and another 25 were sent home by noon.
At least 351 schools were closed last week alone -- affecting 126,000 students in 19 states, according to the U.S. Education Department. So far this school year, about 600 schools have temporarily shut their doors.
The number of closures this year appears on target to surpass the roughly 700 schools closed in the spring when the new flu outbreak first hit.
"This is scary," said Kathryn Marchuk, a nurse whose son attends St. Charles East High School outside Chicago, which closed for three days last week after about 800 of its 2,200 students called in absent. "So many people are sick. It's just everywhere."
Many school officials said they were afraid the virus would spread faster if they stayed open.
Whether it is all effective is debatable. Some experts say that closing schools merely spreads the number of cases over a longer time.
But school officials like Frechette disagree, saying students who get sick this week while they're at home cannot infect nearly as many people if they were walking the hallways of schools.
With such a surge of sick students, many schools are also scrambling to come up with ways to keep kids on top of their studies.
The U.S. Education Department recommended districts and schools give ill students with remote learning opportunities such as take-home assignments or posting homework and class lessons online.
"If you want to make a kid really hate school ... the most effective thing you could do is to make them do their homework and schoolwork when they have a fever and are not feeling well," said Nancy Kalish, an education writer who co-authored a book, The Case Against Homework.
The Obama administration gave its most aggressive defense of the federal government's H1N1 swine flu vaccine campaign, with top officials arguing Wednesday that despite the shortages, the program had already been more successful than expected in some ways and millions of doses were quickly becoming available.
While acknowledging that many Americans were frustrated by their inability to get the vaccine, two Cabinet members held a briefing for reporters to ask the public for their patience as the program is expected to quickly speed up.
"What we want to do is reset, in a way," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano during the briefing with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, which was broadcast on the Internet. "It is frustrating to stand in line and wait for vaccine. For those who have been ill and even those who have had loved ones who passed away our sympathies couldn't be higher," Napolitano said. "But this is not a situation that is cause for panic."
Source » The Washington Post
Flu-like illnesses on college campuses, generally presumed to be pandemic H1N1 influenza, jumped 34 percent in the week ending Friday, the largest surge of the academic year, according to data compiled by the American College Health Association. A total of 8,861 new cases and 20 hospitalizations were reported by the 270 colleges and universities that provide data to the association.
Source » Los Angeles Times