With every day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has learned more about the 2009 H1N1 flu virus, its severity in the United States, and its potential impact on U.S. schools. And this afternoon, based on information that CDC scientists have collected about this new strain of influenza, CDC updated the interim guidance for schools and childcare facilities to follow when responding to the virus.
In summary, schools no longer have to close if they have a suspected or actual case of the flu, and schools that had closed for flu-related reasons may now reopen. Sick students and staff with flu-like symptoms should stay home—or be sent home—for a minimum of 7 days, and adults should continue to monitor children’s health (and their own) for flu-like symptoms. Schools should continue to encourage common-sense measures to reduce the flu’s spread.
The complete guidance is available on CDC’s flu Web site.
Here at the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools has been collaborating with CDC on the development of this updated guidance, with the goal of ensuring it is understandable and workable for the education community.
The number of U.S. schools that have closed due to the 2009 H1N1 flu has been relatively small; on Tuesday, approximately 726 schools were not open—in a nation of more than 100,000 schools. Still, this has been a significant disruption for hundreds of thousands of students at those schools, their families, teachers and school leaders. Following CDC’s guidance, those schools may reopen as soon as possible, and most of those students will be able to return to class.
Health and safety must remain the top priority, of course. Decisions about school closure should be at the discretion of local authorities based on local considerations, including public concern, the impact of school absenteeism, and staffing shortages.