MOUNT VERNON — Deborah Delisle, superintendent of Public Instruction in Ohio, has notified local school superintendents of the steps to take, in cooperation with health officials, in the event swine flu shows up in Knox County.
“If someone is ill with flulike symptoms, ” said Knox County Health Commissioner Dennis Murray, “they really need to stay home from work and from school and call their health care provider.”
If a student has a confirmed case of swine flu, the school or child care center would be closed for at least seven days. Murray said that by law the decision to close schools is the superintendent’s responsibility, although that decision is usually based upon recommendations from the health department. East Knox Superintendent John Marschhausen said he would work closely with the health department in such an instance.
“Chances are we’re going to find out from the health department about an identified case during the school day,” Marschhausen said. “We’d consult with the health department and other community leaders and continue our school day. We’d let the kids know as they left school, and then send home literature and information telling the parents what we plan to do. Depending on circumstances, we may consider closing just one building rather than all of them.”
If a second case is confirmed in the same educational facility, the closure could be longer than a week, since the contagious stage is seven days.
Scott Blake, media relations specialist with the Ohio Department of Edcuation, said the schools would have to make up those days, just like they would if there were a power outage or some other reason a school would close.
When the Spanish flu hit Knox County in late summer of 1918, according to Frederick Lorey’s “History of Knox County, Ohio 1876-1976,” schools were closed in mid-October and did not reopen until Jan. 6, 1919.
“I bet they didn’t have to make those days up,” said Marschhausen.
Today, any school-related events would be canceled for the same time period the schools are closed.
“One of the best precautions about disease transmission is keeping students away from others who are sick,” Delisle wrote in her guidelines. “If the local health department recommends school closure, this will include cancellation of school-related activities.”
School athletic events in 1918 were also canceled, except for one Mount Vernon high school football game played in Millersburg.
If schools are closed, parents will be asked to keep the students at home. Students should not go to public places such as malls, coffee shops or libraries while not in school. Marschhausen said he would also suggest that parents stay home with their own children and not let youths congregate at one anothers’ homes because school is out.
Murray said if health officials feel the community at large could be adversely affected, he would make recommendations for more kinds of isolation.
“I might recommend the cancellation of large social gatherings such as church services,” he said, “and potentially recommend things like Little League games be canceled as well, because that would be a place where folks would be together.”
He said the health department plan calls for using local media — newspaper and radio — to notify people of quarentine recommendaitons.
“In certain areas,” Murray added, “it could also be house-to-house notification by using our citizen corps and other volunter community memebrs.”
In 1918, with the cooperation of community leaders and doctors, church services were suspended, a general ban on public gatherings was enacted and laws against spitting on sidewalks were enforced.
The CDC Web site has the following tips to stop the spread of the disease:
•Hand washing and the use of alcohol hand gels can reduce the spread of viruses, which can reduce the risk of getting an infection.
•Covering the cough, not with a hand, but with an arm or shoulder, can reduce the likelihood the virus will be transmitted.
•Home isolation may be necessary. If someone is sick, has a fever and flulike illness, he or she should stay home. Don’t go to school. Don’t send children to school. Don’t go to work.
The CDC is also asking, in confirmed cases, that not only the infected person stay home but that the rest of the family stay home as well.
For more information call the Ohio swine flu information line at (866) 800-1401 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.