Calif. school officials release H1N1 plan

October 1, 2009 5:43:15 PM PDT
California officials are releasing an updated plan for dealing with swine flu outbreaks in schools.

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This is the first-ever public release of the draft of the state's Pandemic Flu Planning Manual for public schools. The 60-page manual was put together by the California Department of Education and details how to handle an outbreak of the virus and stop the spread of it among school students and staff.

State Superintendent Jack O'Connell visited Los Alamitos Elementary school in San Jose to announce and highlight the purpose of this flu planning manual. It is intended to be a supplemental resource to guidance already provided for schools by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education.

CDC data shows that about one-half of all H1N1 flu cases in the U.S. have been people under age 25, even though schools have made extra efforts to disinfect shared areas on campus. The manual will help education officials how to respond to mass H1N1 flu illnesses. Topics range from student dismissals and school closures to possible take-over of school facilities as triage centers.

"This manual is designed to help our schools, our school community prepare and in response to any H1N1 outbreak. For example, how should it best to notify our parents? When can we notify our parents? Whether there are report procedurals, student dismal. What impacts will this have potentially on learning," O'Connell said.

Since school closures are disruptive, they will be based on the severity and spread of the virus.

"It will depend on who's sick and how; if it's a elementary school and located in a single classroom versus a high school where kids are moving around all the time," Santa Clara County health officer Marty Fenstersheib said.

The manual addresses how various agencies will work together when schools do need to be closed and stresses that parents understand the importance of keeping children home when they are sick. Schools will not be taking any chances; if a student or staff member shows any flu symptoms, they need to be at home in isolation.

"If they've been out with a fever and we know they've had a fever, they need to come back 24 hours fever free without medications," health service manager Melinda Landau said.

O'Connell also clarified recent concerns from school districts about whether alcohol-based hand sanitizers are legally permitted. He said they are legal and encourages hand-washing and the use of these sanitizers as a way to fight the spread of the flu.

This flu planning manual is still in the draft-version. The state wants to get feedback from students, parents, and school staff to improve on it as needed. A final version will be released for school distribution in the next 60 days.

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