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Schools prep for swine flu outbreak

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Though no cases of the swine flu have been reported in Southwest Virginia, at this point Galax schools are taking a proactive position to prevent any cases of the disease, Superintendent Bill Sturgill told The Gazette on Friday.

Administrators of the school division met Thursday to discuss the swine flu, using the guidelines of the Virginia Department of Education's health plan. “It was a discussion of what do we do now and to prepare in terms of precautionary measures,” Sturgill said.

Sturgill and administrators then met with faculty and staff of all three city schools, reminding them of common sense health rules for themselves and students, such as washing hands frequently and keeping a distance between others in the lunch line, he said.

In addition, cleaning agents have been used to wipe down tables, chairs and other surfaces.

A letter went home to parents on Friday, explaining what the swine flu is, the symptoms and how to prevent it.

“The best information we have at this time is there is no immediate risk to our community and there is no cause for alarm,” Sturgill said in the letter. “Our schools are working with the health department to monitor the situation and participate in surveillance and monitoring procedures at the local, state and national levels.”

The letter advised parents that students should stay home if they should have seasonal flu-like symptoms, including fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people with swine flu have also experienced runny nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The schools have also hypothetically planned for the outbreak, Sturgill said. Schools would close in the case of the confirmed swine flu diagnosis of students, faculty or staff.

In the event that the schools close due to a case of swine flu, information about the closings will be made available through the school system's Web site and local media.

Teachers have advised students to take homework and books home with them in case the schools close.

“If we should have a diagnosis, we will immediately plan for that,” said Sturgill.

Carroll County Public Schools sent a letter to parents last Thursday, saying that educators are in the process of reviewing and updating the pandemic influenza plan.

Dennis Green, Carroll County schools director of operations, said, besides sending out the letter to all parents, the swine flu outbreak has educators checking their emergency inventories to make sure they have the tools to respond if an cases should arise locally.

They have checked their disinfecting cleaners and their supplies of masks.

"Of course, we're all watching CNN..." he noted.

No cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Carroll, to his knowledge.

The school division will coordinate efforts with state and local health departments, as well as community leaders, should the situation dictate.

Educators included tips for good hygiene in the letter and assured parents that the school system is following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, Virginia Department of Health and the Mount Rogers Health District.

Information was not available from Grayson County Schools by press time on Friday.

Grayson Schools Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas said the school system "is in close contact with the Virginia Department of Health and local health department representatives to attain the most up-to-date information available from federal, state and local sources. We are maintaining a surveillance system to monitor the spread of Swine Flu cases. Also, we are conducting a daily monitor of staff and student health status and attendance.

"As a preventative measure, our school staff are assuring that students are properly washing their hands with soap or using alcohol based hand cleaners."

In the event of a pandemic influenza outbreak, the Grayson school system has developed a comprehensive plan to be implemented. "This plan includes collaboration with health departments and health care providers, emergency closure of schools, restriction of school activities, use of school facilities to assist the community, and procedures to re-open schools," Thomas said.