Schools can be leading indicators of public health outbreaks, so the Department of Education hosted a conference call this afternoon to guide education officials on how to identify, contain, report and prevent swine influenza in school facilities. Public-health and epidemiology experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and President Obama’s Homeland Security Council joined officials from the Department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools to update the education community on the flu outbreak and recommend procedures for dealing with it.
More than 1,400 participants from school districts, state education offices and education associations across the United States listened in and asked a range of questions, many of which the CDC answers at its continually updated Swine Influenza site. (You can add CDC’s useful swine flu widget to your own Web site to funnel users to the Centers’ continually updated information.) CDC also advises common-sense measures for preventing flu—stay home if you’re sick, avoid close contact and wash your hands, among other steps.
One frequently asked question from today’s call: Under what circumstances should schools close? A few U.S. schools have closed. CDC offers this interim guidance, recommending strong consideration of closure of schools with a confirmed case of swine flu or suspected case that has been epidemiologically linked to a confirmed case. Broader school dismissal should be left to local authorities, taking into account the extent of [influenza-like illness] in the community.
If your school or district does decide to close, please notify the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools (OSDFS) by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, in addition to your local public health authority. Educators may also e-mail OSDFS with questions about the proper response to swine influenza cases, and how to prevent the flu at schools.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who received a briefing about swine flu from federal public health officials on Monday, encourages all schools, districts and states to monitor closely the health of their populations, communicate with local health authorities and political leaders and proceed with the safest and healthiest course for their students and communities. The Department of Education will post additional resources for educators, along with FAQs stemming from today’s conference call and a transcript of it, on ED.gov. Stay tuned to ED.gov’s blog for updates.