San Rafael school closes due to flu

May 1, 2009 7:14:22 PM PDT
A Marin County elementary school is the latest to close because of the flu. A student at Bahia Vista Elementary came down with the H1N1 virus earlier this week.

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Bahia Elementary is a kindergarten through fifth grade school in the canal neighborhood of San Rafael. The neighborhood has lots of Hispanic residents with ties to Mexico, but the health department says the student who came down with the virus this week had not been to Mexico.

According to Marin's health officer, the student at Bahia started showing symptoms of the H1N1 flu virus on Monday, but continued to go to school and was probably contagious.

"We're obviously concerned, we're taking proactive measures to try to reduce the spread of the virus in the community," Marin County Public Health Officer, Dr.Fred Schwartz said.

Closing the school for the next seven days was the first measure.

"The cleaning of the campus will be initiated starting late this afternoon, we'll be using the standard cleaning measures," San Rafael Superintendent of Schools Michael Watenpaugh said.

Watenpaugh also told reporters that after-school programs at nearby Pickleweed Community Center, as well as the center's library, will also be closed for the week, though other programs at the center are continuing.

"We have senior programs here, we've got basketball going on right now, we've got church tonight, I mean there's a variety of thing that go on in this facility, ESL classes, and they're all still going," San Rafael Deputy City Manager Nancy Mackle said.

Parents say they understand the need to close the school.

"They have to do that because they want to take care of the kids, they don't want the flu to expel to everybody," Asbal Lopez said.

But in San Francisco Friday afternoon, the deputy county health officer said some health professionals are questioning the school closures.

"There is somewhat of a disconnect between our message that this is seasonal flu and that we might be in a position of having to close schools," Dr. Susan Fernyak said.

Fernyak says the state and the feds are calling the shots.

"Although we might not agree with that, we are prepared to close schools if we have a confirmed case in a school," she said.

Fernyak calls it a balancing act. The inconvenience to students and their parents has to be weighed against the possibility that the virus could mutate into something more dangerous.

"A lot of the decisions are really made with that concern in mind," Fernyak said.

Health and Bahia Elementary school officials will not say what grade the student is in or whether it is a girl or a boy. What is known is that three of the student's family members are also showing symptoms.

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