Sid the Science Kid: H1N1 Virus, Flu Vaccinations

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On Wednesday, the Department of Education hosted an advance screening of a new episode in the popular PBS Kids cartoon series, “Sid the Science Kid” called “Getting a Shot: You Can Do It!” regarding the H1N1 vaccination. Seated on colorful reading mats and oversized bean bag chairs, children from across the Washington, D.C., area participated in learning activities about nutrition and wellness; enjoyed healthy snacks; and—along with “Sid the Science Kid”—discovered the basic science behind germs, viruses, and why vaccines are so important. Special guest hosts for the evening included CEO of the Jim Henson Company Lisa Henson, Director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Dr. Anne Schuchat, and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

Produced by the Jim Henson Company, the “Sid the Science Kid” series uses cartoon characters and comedy to answer questions children have about basic scientific principles. Secretary Sebelius noted, “In this special episode, Sid explains how vaccines work and shows millions of children what they can do to prevent the spread of the flu.” She added, “Sid will be a great messenger as we continue to find new and creative ways to reach out to children, adults, and families about how to stay healthy during flu season.”

The special H1N1 episode will premiere on PBS on Monday, Oct. 26, 2009, with subsequent airings through November and December. Additional information and interactive tools for children, caregivers, and adults can be found online at www.PBSKIDS.org/sid. For information about the seasonal and H1N1 flu viruses and vaccinations, please visit www.flu.gov, the government-wide “one-stop” Web site for flu-related resources, managed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

ED Staff

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Flu Season School Guidance

Secretaries Sebelius, Duncan, and Napolitano hosted a press conference this morning to release updated guidance for schools during the upcoming influenza season. The school guidance is a part of a broader national framework to respond to novel H1N1 influenza, which includes encouraging people to be vaccinated against the virus and to take other actions to avoid infection.

“We can all work to keep our children healthy now by practicing prevention, close monitoring, and using common sense,” Secretary Duncan said. “We hope no schools have to close. But if they do, we need to make sure that children keep learning.”

More information:

ED Staff

Fall Flu Season, H1N1 Virus

It’s time to start planning and preparing for the fall flu season and the ongoing H1N1 flu outbreak. That’s why, today, the Obama Administration held the H1N1 Influenza Preparedness Summit.

More than 50 states, tribes, and territories joined federal officials and agencies for the summit to kick off nation-wide efforts to be ready.

Below is an open letter to Americans from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, all of whom spoke at the summit.

Fellow Americans,

This spring we were confronted with an outbreak of a troubling flu virus called 2009-H1N1. As the fall flu season approaches, it is critical that we reinvigorate our preparedness efforts across the country in order to mitigate the effects of this virus on our communities.

Today, we are holding an H1N1 Influenza Preparedness Summit in conjunction with the White House to discuss our Nation’s preparedness. We are working together to monitor the spread of 2009-H1N1 and to prepare to initiate a voluntary fall vaccination program against the 2009-H1N1 flu virus, assuming we have a safe vaccine and do not see changes in the virus that would render the vaccine ineffective.

But the most critical steps to mitigating the effects of 2009-H1N1 won’t take place in Washington — they will take place in your homes, schools and community businesses.

Taking precautions for this fall’s flu season is a responsibility we all share. Visit Flu.gov to make sure you are ready and learn how you can help promote public awareness.

We are making every effort to have a safe and effective vaccine available for distribution as soon as possible, but our current estimate is that it won’t be ready before mid-October. This makes individual prevention even more critical. Wash your hands regularly. Take the necessary precautions to stay healthy and if you do get sick, stay home from work or school.

We are doing everything possible to prepare for the fall flu season and encourage all Americans to do the same — this is a shared responsibility and now is the time to prepare. Please visit Flu.gov to learn what steps you can take to prepare and do your part to mitigate the effects of H1N1.

Take Care,
Kathleen, Janet and Arne

CDC Flu Guidance Recommends that Schools Reopen

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.

ED Staff

Listen in on Flu Conference Call with ED and CDC

Education leaders from across the country joined a conference call Thursday to discuss flu response with officials from the Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Representing chief state school officers, superintendents, principals, teachers, nurses, higher education and other key groups, more than 1,300 people dialed in. ED.gov has a recording of the 86-minute call, which features extensive Q&A with health officials. We’ll also add a transcript when it becomes available. See complete information on ED’s response to the flu.


Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Additional Flu Resources for School Leaders Seeking Guidance

ED.gov now offers even more guidance for school leaders on reducing the spread of the flu known as H1N1—commonly called “swine flu”—and for dealing with any suspected cases of the virus at their schools.

You’ll now find answers to Frequently Asked Questions here (PDF) on ED.gov’s page on emergency planning for influenza outbreak. Culled from questions that school leaders around the country have been asking ED this week, these questions include:

  • What steps should school leadership take when there is a confirmed case of H1N1 flu among students or staff on campus?

  • When a school closes and students are dismissed, how long should the school remain closed?

  • If a student took a vacation in Mexico recently, should the student be kept at home?

  • What should we do if we have no cases in our community?

ED consulted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop answers to these questions—and many more. The guidance is subject to change as conditions change, so check back periodically. We are also developing a guide for parents. In the meantime, we encourage school leaders to adapt the guidance we are providing them to suit parents, faculty and staff, and students.

If you’re a school leader and you don’t have an emergency plan that deals with flu, get one. ED.gov’s Emergency Planning section for school administrators offers many resources for developing contingency plans around a number of hazards, including pandemic flu. This information is designed specifically for schools, but remember that the best guidance on health questions comes from physicians, public health agencies and other health experts.

The Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools continues to monitor school closures around the country and asks schools and districts that choose to close to alert ED by e-mail to flu@ed.gov, after notifying local health authorities. As of 12 PM ET today, April 29th, ED had confirmed closures of at least 104 schools nationwide, public and nonpublic, enrolling about 56,000 students. Seventy-four of these schools closed because of confirmed or probable causes of H1N1 flu; the rest closed as a precaution. These schools are scattered among eight states.

So far, the impact on U.S. schools overall remains small—just a tiny percentage of the more than 100,000 schools nationwide, which enroll a total of approximately 55 million students. For all of them, Secretary Duncan offered this advice earlier today: “All of us involved in schools—school leaders, teachers, parents and students—need to pitch in and do our part to prevent the spread of this flu virus…Do what is appropriate for the health of your communities, your schools and your students.”

ED Staff

Public Health Officials Offer Swine Flu Guidance to Schools

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 osdfs.safeschl@ed.gov, 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.

ED Staff