Flu Days Hit Schools

STAFF at Parry McCluer High School scrub down lockers last Thursday morning. Buena Vista schools were closed Thursday and Friday because of an outbreak of flu and other illnesses. Employees reported to work to scrub down and otherwise disinfect the school facilities and buses.

STAFF at Parry McCluer High School scrub down lockers last Thursday morning. Buena Vista schools were closed Thursday and Friday because of an outbreak of flu and other illnesses. Employees reported to work to scrub down and otherwise disinfect the school facilities and buses.

Numbers Better In BV Schools After Closure

With 180 out of 900 students absent, and 14 staff members out as well, Buena Vista Public Schools decided last Wednesday to cancel its Thursday and Friday classes in order to recoup from a medley of illnesses —primarily the flu.

Superintendent John Keeler provided an update after the longer than usual weekend. “We’re much better than we were last Wednesday,” he told The News-Gazette yesterday. He reported that figures for students absent had dropped from 180 to 78, and that the 14 ill staff members had been reduced to one.

Healthy staff members were not idle with their days off; they spent Thursday and Friday scrubbing down the school.

“Everybody pitched in and cleaned the buildings, stuff that we had been doing, but we just did it again,” Keeler said. “And the transportation department wiped down the insides of all the buses.”

Keeler considered the efforts and the time off successful, though he also said that many students are still out sick and, in addition to the flu, they have now been coming down with viruses and stomach issues.

Other local school systems have been more fortunate this flu season. Rockbridge County schools’ attendance has been in the 90th percentile, which is normal for this time of year, Assistant Superintendent Haywood Hand said.

“Obviously in this time of the season we’re very vigilant,” Hand said. “[We’ve been] wiping down desks, wiping down doorknobs, hoping to prevent the spread of any infectious germs.”

Lexington City Schools have not seen a widespread flu outbreak, either.

“We are of course seeing a spike in illness that includes flu-like symptoms — some strep throat, viruses, a stomach bug,” Superintendent Rebecca Walters qualified, “but we’re following up with nurses, checking on our numbers, and making sure that everything is clean and disinfected.”

Walters said that the elementary school was suffering the most from a lack of attendance, while at the middle school attendance has been consistent. Substitute teacher coverage has been an ongoing project, as many teachers have had to stay home to care for an ill family member if they were not ill themselves.

“[Finding] substitute teacher coverage causes a stress on our schools; we have to make sure that we have all of the supports in place for the students that are there,” Walters said.

Flu virus activity has been widespread in almost every U.S. region, according to CNN, and in the nation, influenza A and B strains have been approximately equal overall. Influenza A is more commonly reported among children and young adults, while Influenza B is more commonly reported among adults ages 25-65.

Each spring, scientists predict what strains will be out during the following flu season, and they create vaccines accordingly. Some year’s predictions are better than others, and so some vaccines are better than others, too.

The health director for the Central Shenandoah Health District, Laura Kornegay, said that this year’s vaccine has been a “reasonable match,” but Virginia definitely “saw more of influenza B early in the season.” Still, even if the vaccine is not a perfect match, and a person gets the flu after having gotten a flu shot, the vaccine has preventative benefits.

“Getting a flu vaccine can make influenza less severe and decrease the chance of deadly complications,” Kornegay explained.

No pediatric flu-associated deaths have been reported in Virginia this flu season, according to the Virginia Department of Health, though there have been 773 pneumonia and influenza related deaths for 2019-2020.

The state has spent 10 weeks in the “widespread” category for the 2019-2020 flu season. Of the total 5,155 infections in Virginia, 1,924 (37.3 percent) were influenza strain A and 3,230 (62.7 percent) were influenza B.

“The best public health prevention messages would be, No. 1, stay home when you’re sick,” Kornegay said. “No. 2, wash your hands; no. 3, practice good respiratory etiquette by sneezing or coughing into your elbow; and finally, getting a seasonal flu vaccine.”

While schools have been dealing with flu this season, a letter from Kornegay went out to parents and guardians of Rockbridge County High students last week about a case of whooping cough reported at the school.

Though not a life-threatening illness, it can be serious for infants. The illness is spread through air “in droplets” that are produced by sneezes and coughs. Coughs that last more than two weeks, or highly severe coughs, are warning signs.

“You can still get pertussis [whooping cough] if you have been vaccinated in the past,” Kornegay said in her letter.

“This does not mean that you should not get the vaccine,” she wrote. “The current vaccine prevents illness, hospitalizations and/or deaths in infants, immune-comprised and elderly patients.”

The News-Gazette

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