Local schools monitor students’ health, absenteeism in wake of illness outbreak

Published 9:48 am Tuesday, January 6, 2015

As the flu continues to affect people all across the country, local school officials are keeping an eye on the situation on the home front.
Officials with both Elizabethton City schools and Carter County schools said their respective school systems are monitoring student absences and keeping in touch with the local and state health departments.
“We are monitoring it very closely to make it as safe as possible for the children,” Interim Superintendent of Elizabethton City Schools Corey Gardenhour said. “We have been working with the health department, and there is a plan in place.”
As part of that plan, Gardenhour said school system officials will be monitoring student attendance on a daily basis, emphasizing the importance of good handwashing practices to students and staff and working with the coordinated school health program.
Many concerned parents have contacted the school system, Gardenhour said, adding school officials are “on top of” the situation and are continuing to work toward making sure the children are safe.
At the county schools, the plan of action is much the same according to Beth Bare, director of the coordinated school health program for Carter County schools.
“We’ve talked to the health department and other schools in the region,” Bare said. “They have said it is a higher than normal flu season.”
School nurses are closely watching student illnesses, Bare said, and are quickly removing students from class and sending them home if it appears they have the flu to try to prevent the spread of the illness.
“We really want parents to keep those students home if they have a fever or a cough,” Bare said.
Students returned to school from the Christmas break on Monday in the county schools and today in the city schools. Before school dismissed for the Christmas break, Bare said a lot of flulike illnesses had been seen by the school health staff.
“We’re hoping maybe it peaked while school was out,” Bare said.
School officials are tackling this year just like any other flu season, Bare said, adding students are being encouraged to use good hygiene and handwashing and to avoid sharing drinks or food with others. Additionally, Bare said, school staff is being extra diligent with making sure common surfaces such as doorknobs and desks are being sanitized.
Like the city, the county schools are keeping a close eye on student attendance as a means of monitoring the flu outbreak. Principals are making daily absenteeism reports to the central office to help monitor attendance.
If the outbreak were to get too bad, the school system could consider closing schools for a period of time to try to help the outbreak pass, Bare said.
“School closure is not routinely recommended by the Centers for Disease Control,” Bare said. “If we see that absenteeism is getting high, that is something we would look at.”
In order to further protect children in the community, doctors at Niswonger Children’s Hospital are urging parents to exercise caution if their children start to display signs of illness.
“Children who have a fever should be kept home from school or daycare,” said Dr. Mark McHaney, a pediatric emergency physician at Niswonger Children’s Hospital. “Children should see their doctor if they have a fever that lasts more than 72 hours, if they have difficulty breathing, or if they look very ill. Children younger than 2 or with chronic medical conditions like asthma should see their doctor at the first sign of a flulike illness. In general with all viral infections, children should not go back to school until they have been fever-free for 24 hours without the help of fever-reducing medication.”

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