MASON COUNTY — Influenza is hitting hard in the Mason County School System, but Superintendent Jack Cullen said he has been advised to keep schools in session.
Cullen said he has been closely monitoring the student absences since last Friday, due to the increase of flu in the county. He stated Point Pleasant Junior/Senior High School has been the most affected with 364, or 30 percent, of the students missing school on Thursday. Point Pleasant Primary and Beale Elementary are also among the schools hardest hit.
The superintendent said the number of students absent on any given day is typically seven to nine percent. He said he has been advised, however, to keep students in class as long as there are sufficient staff members.
In an e-mail to Cullen from Rebecca J. King, state school nurse consultant with the West Virginia Department of Education, King said school closure is not recommended for influenza outbreaks unless there is not sufficient staff to instruct students or maintain a safe and healthy environment.
She continued, “The rationale is students are in the community or in groups within a child care/family member home spreading the flu at increased levels. There are safety concerns for those left at home without supervision and health concerns for children without access to school breakfast and lunch programs.”
Cullen said while there are substitutes in various positions in the schools, there is still enough adult supervision to cover.
The superintendent said custodians, as well as the teachers, are taking extra precautions to disinfect the schools each day. Disinfecting wipes are being used throughout the day by teachers to wipe down areas that are constantly touched, such as desks and doorknobs.
Notifications also went out to all parents this week that extended the amount of absences that will be accepted as excused without a doctor’s excuse. Cullen said he did not want someone sending their child to school with a fever because they were worried about truancy.
Normally, seven notes are accepted from parents as excused absences in elementary schools, and five in secondary schools. Those numbers are being extended through Feb. 17, when the flu epidemic will once again be evaluated. Cullen emphasized that if a student is taken to a doctor, parents should still get the doctor’s excuse, however.
The superintendent said he has also been in close contact with the local health department, which sent him a school guide on how to clean and disinfect schools to help slow the spread of the flu. The guide is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There are also ways the public can help prevent spreading the flu, according to the CDC. They include:
Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and throwing the tissue in the trash after use;
Staying away from people who are sick;
Washing hands often with soap and water, or if soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand rub;
Avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth;
Keeping a sick person in a separate room from others in the household;
Keeping surfaces like tables, kitchen and bathroom counters, and children’s toys clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant; and,
Throwing tissues and other disposable items used by sick persons in the trash.
Parents should also teach children to wash their hands with soap and water for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. This will help protect against many germs, according to the CDC.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing who can be reached at [email protected]