Thursday, May 28, 2009

School closed for flu? Now what do you do?

Last week, several Boston-area schools announced that they were each closing for a week, because of the high number of students suffering from flu-like symptoms. Boston Latin -- the city's largest high school, with more than 2,400 students -- was among those closing.

I'm concerned for the handful of sick kids, of course, but I can't help but put myself in the parents' shoes. What are all of those kids -- more than 2,500 of them, total -- going to do with their impromptu week-long vacation? And how are working parents going to juggle this?

At's Child Caring blog, I wondered: Are we making too much of this?

While easily transmitted and seemingly more contagious than other forms of influenza, The World Health Organization says that the H1N1 virus seems to cause only mild illness in otherwise healthy people; out of 9,830 cases reported thus far
worldwide, there have been only 79 deaths. In comparison, last year 36,000 people died in the US from complications from influenza during the "regular" flu season, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Wondering how the illnesses have played out in Massachusetts? has a great graphic about it.)

Interestingly enough, though the Winsor School decided to close from today until May 27 because of flu concerns, members of their Small Chorus performed last night at Fenway Park, singing the American and Canadian national anthems at the Red Sox/Blue Jays game. Maybe the outbreak isn't that big a deal, after all.

The students are middle schoolers and high schoolers -- some are probably old enough to stay home alone for the day, but not all. Some are bound to have siblings who attend other schools, ones that aren't shuttering for a week because of a possible outbreak... what about them? Are they supposed to be in contact with a cloistered sibling at night, but then head out the door to sneeze on other people during the day? It can be difficult to decide whether to keep a sick child home from school; trying to figure out whether to stay home with one who seems perfectly fine is another issue entirely.

And what about the parents? A recent survey by shows that 71 percent of employees show up for work when they're sick. The survey suggests that, in this economy, many people are choosing their jobs over their health (and I'll admit that I am usually among the guilty), but others simply don't have the sick days to use.

I know the H1N1 virus has now reached pandemic proportions, but does closing the schools really halt transmission? What happens when the schools are closed and people -- I'm talking about the ones who aren't in school -- get sick anyway?

No comments: