O’Connell urges caution, prevention with swine flu outbreak

In urging schools to make every effort to prevent the spread of the swine flu, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack OConnell said Tuesday that he would work with lawmakers on special legislation that would reimburse districts for any lost revenue related to school closure or dropped ADA.

With 13 cases of the potentially deadly virus confirmed in California, the states school chief said that district administrators should not hesitate to send sick students or staff home, even at risk of losing incentive grant money.

OConnell, speaking at a Sacramento news conference, said that he is working closely with state and local public health officials to monitor school conditions statewide but especially in San Diego and Imperial counties that border Mexico where the outbreak has become a national crisis.

As of the morning news conference, OConnell said that just one private school in California has been closed as a result of the flu and it was not clear how many of the confirmed cases were students.

Under existing laws, the authority over decision about closing schools or any public facility rests with the public health officers of each county, OConnell said. Although decisions about whether to close a school or not would be made on a case-by-case basis, he said the current thinking is that if there is even one confirmed case, authorities will close the school.

The closure duration, also subject to individual evaluation, would most likely be for one week.

Although the California Department of Education has no authority over a public health issue, OConnell said they are urging school administrators to disseminate as broadly as possible the basic strategies for preventing the spread of sickness reminding students to wash their hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes and stay home if symptoms develop. The department has a series of posters available, developed for a 2003 outbreak, for schools to put up as reminders.

The department has also issued sample correspondence to principals that can be used to help keep parents informed about changes within their community.

We need to take this seriously, OConnell said. But we also need to be mindful that there are 6.2 million public school students and only a handful of cases, so we dont want to overreact either.

To get the CDEs prevention posters visit:

http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/av/mm/yr03mm.asp#pos

For more information about flu prevention:

http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/hn/fluinfo.asp

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