Schools Closed Around the Country to Fight Swine Flu

Parents need to start figuring out how to deal with school closures.


Swine flu keeps getting scarier, with the first death from A/H1N1 flu confirmed in the United States—a 23-month-old toddler in Texas.

I wrote yesterday, as part of my 5 tactics for keeping your family safe, that parents need to get ready for the fact that schools may be closed as a result of the flu outbreak. Now that’s happening, with school closures in Texas, Illinois, California, and New York. More are on the way.

President Obama today said that schools should shut down if they have confirmed cases. And he added: "Parents should also think about contingencies if schools in their areas should shut down... Just sending a [sick] child from a school to a day-care center would not be a good solution."

In Texas, the New Braunfels Independent School District and Comal Independent School District closed all schools starting today, citing “one positive and multiple probable cases of swine flu detected throughout the city and county, including both school districts, and all private schools.” (Here’s the official school closing announcement from the New Braunfels Independent School District.)

In Chicago, the Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in Rogers Park closed today after one student fell ill with confirmed swine flu. A high school in San Jose, Calif., is closed with a flu case, and an elementary school is closed in nearby Contra Costa County.

A smaller Texas school district, the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District, closed Monday because of cases there, and a private school in New York City closed Monday because dozens of students there were ill, reportedly after some returned from spring break trips to Mexico.

Meanwhile, officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this morning to prepare for “more cases, more hospitalizations, and more deaths” in the weeks to come and posted information on how doctors should treat young children with swine flu (this includes pediatric dosing with antiviral drugs).

Face masks are an imperfect protection against swine flu, according to the CDC, because virus particles can make their way around the edges of the mask. Respirators are better but hard to wear for long. The CDC’s new guidance on using face masks to prevent swine flu says they should be used only along with other prevention techniques, including hand washing and social distancing.

Preparations and precautions. So parents, get ready. Now’s the time to ask your boss how the company will handle absences caused by swine flu. It’s also time for the family to figure out who will stay home if schools are closed and who will do the care giving if flu strikes your family. Follow local news alerts, including those posted by the local public health department and school district. (Many school districts have E-mail alerts that will keep you on top of the news.)

It’s easy for me to do my job from home as long as I have a good Internet connection. Many businesses have put together emergency plans that allow for telecommuting in case of a public health emergency like this. The federal Department of Health and Human Services offers lots of guidance for businesses on how to handle pandemic flu on its website.

But not all parents can work at home, particularly if they’re in critical jobs in healthcare and public safety.

A difficult dilemma. Bri from New Braunfels, Texas, wrote this comment to the OnParenting blog yesterday:

My concern is I work in a medical facility that serves at least 4 counties where there are suspected to have had 6 cases of the swine [flu]. I hate having to go to work knowing the swine could come to me there at work and I could bring it home to my family.

If I were in Bri’s shoes, I don’t know what I would do. Go to work, and try to practice good infection control by washing hands and wearing a face mask? Or decide that the family’s health comes first and stay home? The decision is particularly tough for people like Bri who work in healthcare and have a strong commitment to caring for patients. Recent experience with the SARS outbreak showed that healthcare workers bravely stayed on the job even when they faced a real risk of death. Some did die. But parents have a commitment to their children, too. This is a decision that parents will have to make for themselves.

These are not happy thoughts. But we’ll all sleep better—or as well as we possibly can—knowing that the family is prepared for what might happen next.