Government: Schools Need Not Shut For Swine Flu The federal government issued guidelines Friday to the nation's schools on what to do about the likely return this fall of the new H1N1 swine flu virus. A CDC official said measures can be taken to protect students and staff.
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Government: Schools Need Not Shut For Swine Flu

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Government: Schools Need Not Shut For Swine Flu

Government: Schools Need Not Shut For Swine Flu

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Today the federal government issued guidelines to schools on what to do about the likely return this fall of swine flu. Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spoke about those guidelines today.

Mr. THOMAS FRIEDEN (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): We can't stop the tide of flu from coming in, but we can reduce the number of people who become severely ill from it.

BRAND: And a good place to start is with the country's 55 million students.

NPR's Joanne Silberner has this story on what the government is suggesting.

JOANNE SILBERNER: When the new H1N1 flu first made its appearance last spring, federal health authorities urged schools to consider closing if a single student got sick. They eventually backed off that advice, and now they're backing off even further. The CDC's Tom Frieden.

Mr. FRIEDEN: We know more how it behaves. We know more how to control it, what it does and doesn't do. And it is now clear that closure of schools is rarely indicated even if H1N1 is in the school. There are measures we can take to protect the students, to protect the staff and to allow learning to continue.

SILBERNER: First and foremost…

Mr. FRIEDEN: Keep sick kids and staff home. If sick people stay out of school, they won't spread H1N1 or other diseases at the school.

SILBERNER: They can come back after 24 hours of no fever. Second, get kids to wash their hands. Third, train them to cough into their elbows, not their hands or in their classmates' faces. Schools with special populations, a lot of pregnant teens, say, or kids with cerebral palsy, might want to consider temporary closures. And the government says schools should prepare themselves for the chance that the virus may mutate into something that causes more serious illness.

Mr. FRIEDEN: In that situation, we would, for example, suggest that local schools and public health officials coordinate closely to actively screen kids when they walk into the school each day.

SILBERNER: People with underlying conditions like asthma or diabetes could stay home. And keeping kids farther apart would be a good idea. Debra Munk, principal of Rockville High School in Rockville, Maryland, says her school may have been shut down for three days last spring unnecessarily, but the move was made with the best of intentions when little was known about the virus. She was happy to see the federal government make it clear that school closing is a last resort.

Ms. DEBRA MUNK (Principal, Rockville High School): Closing any school has so many social ramifications. I mean, when our school closed, I have no way of knowing that my students aren't congregating together. I have no knowledge that they're supervised, that they're not engaging in other risky behaviors. For those three days I didn't know where my kids were, and I guarantee they weren't just sitting home quarantined.

SILBERNER: Julie Harris Lawrence, who works on safety issues for the Texas Education Agency, says the new guidelines are pretty much what Texas has put into effect already. And the recommendation to avoid letting students congregate if the virus changes is easy enough.

Ms. JULIE HARRIS LAWRENCE (Texas Education Agency): Having morning assemblies, maybe we don't want to do that if we have flu in the school. Maybe we don't want to put all the music classes together to practice this week.

SILBERNER: Something she says she might miss.

Ms. LAWRENCE: Well, you know, all the fifth graders with the cymbals are always an exciting adventure. It always is.

SILBERNER: Another thing that might be missing if the new H1N1 virus comes back in a stronger form, lunches in the school cafeteria.

Joanne Silberner, NPR News.

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