Loomis schools prepare for possible swine flu outbreak

By: Joyia Emard and Michelle Miller-Carl, Gold Country News Service
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If you’re doing back-to-school shopping, you may want to add another item to your list – hand sanitizer. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control are anticipating a proliferation of the H1N1 flu, formerly called swine flu, when kids return to school this month. They’re also issuing dire predictions that as many as four in 10 Americans could contract the illness in the next two years. “It’s coming to our schools,” said Sheree Palma, a registered nurse working for the Loomis Union School District. Palma said the district is being proactive and held a teacher training this week to educate the staff on the prevention of the illness. She said district parents will also receive information. Palma said that as a precaution, mandatory hand washing by students, teachers and staff will occur first thing upon arrival at school. “Hand washing is the number one way to stop the spread of disease and germs,” she said. She also said that extra surface cleaning in the classrooms will be conducted on a daily basis. Teachers, staff and parents will be reminded to stay home if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms and won’t be allowed to return until fever and symptoms have been gone for 24 hours. Carolyn Nichols, assistant superintendent, organized the teacher education on the flu and said that enrollment will be affected if there is a flu outbreak, which will decrease the funding the district receives from the state. Nichols said they put the health of the students first, though. “We don’t want sick kids or teachers at school. We want them home and recovering,” she said. Placer County health officials are also taking the flu threat seriously. “You can never fully prepare for something if the potential is that dire, but we are preparing for a big surge in cases,” said Mark Starr, director of community health for Placer County. A county plan could include recruiting volunteer staff to open more beds in understaffed hospitals. It could also mean reprioritizing patients with non-urgent care needs or setting up alternate care sites in places such as community centers. The county may also be the one handing out an H1N1 vaccine alongside private health providers. The government is currently working on production of a vaccine that could be available by October. Starr said he doesn’t know how much vaccine would be available, but delivering it would be a big priority for the county. Health officials are working to determine which groups would have priority to receive the vaccine, Starr said. They may prioritize the vaccine for women and children because the elderly, so far, have not been as susceptible to H1N1. Starr said it might be because older people were exposed to the 1957 flu pandemic, which is the same “family” as the current H1N1.