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Published: 9/30/2009

Lucas County seeking calm on swine flu

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County Health Commissioner David Grossman said he'll be at Clay High School tonight to answer questions about the swine flu, but he's hoping parent meetings at other schools will be unnecessary.

"My concern is that even with all the talking and all the preparation, we still have the overreacting," Dr. Grossman said yesterday. "It is a flu. It's a novel flu and thank goodness we have a vaccine on the horizon. I think we'll limit the spread, and there is an end in sight versus a pandemic flu that we don't have a vaccine for."

Oregon City Schools confirmed yesterday that two students at Fassett Middle School - a sixth grader and an eighth grader - had tested positive for the swine flu virus, also known as H1N1. The district was the first in the Toledo area to report confirmed cases of the flu, although all districts are seeing some absences of students with flu-like symptoms.

Jim Fritz, assistant superintendent in the Anthony Wayne Local Schools, said the district notified the health department Monday about a "potential cluster" of flu cases at Monclova Primary School where five students from the same classroom were out ill.

"We have not confirmed that they all have flu-like symptoms," he said, adding, "If you were to look at attendance, you may have kids out for symptoms similar to the flu or just ill. On any given day, you may have more than five kids out of a classroom."

Dr. Grossman said the health department will never know how many people come down with swine flu.

"I would definitely say there will be hundreds. The trouble with saying that is we're not going to test every case that looks like it," he said. "We won't have an absolute, guaranteed number that are H1N1."

In Oregon, parents of Fassett students were notified by letter about both cases of swine flu but were told that if more cases are reported, notices will not be sent out. That upset some parents like Windy Mills, who said she was ready to pull her seventh grader out of Fassett shortly after learning of the first case on Friday.

"As parents we have a right to know," she said. "What if there are 20 more cases? If there are 20 more cases, my kid isn't going to school.

"I understand they don't want a panic and don't want everyone to get their kids out of school, but if there's a reason to panic, we need to know."

Oregon Superintendent Michael Zalar said if there is a reason to panic, parents certainly will be informed. Still, he said he does not believe it's necessary to send a letter home every time a child tests positive for swine flu.

"It's the flu and we're not going to send a letter anytime somebody gets the flu," Mr. Zalar said. "We're in communication with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department and if concern grows to the point where there's a cluster or an outbreak that they consider to be serious, then we will address those concerns at that point in time in the future."

The cases and concerns prompted administrators to schedule a community forum at 7 p.m. today at the Clay High School auditorium where county health officials and the school nurse will provide information about swine flu and answer questions.

Perrysburg Schools Superintendent Tom Hosler said his district has not had any reported cases, but he does not expect to send a letter home if it learns of any.

"Kids are going to be coming down with the flu. Staff will be coming down with the flu," he said. "Until we reach the point where the health department says you have some issues, we're not going to come out and say we have two students here and one student here. People are going to be getting it, and it's going to run its course."

Nearly all school districts say they have sent information home about H1N1 in newsletters, e-mails, and brochures. They have stepped up housekeeping particularly on surfaces such as doorknobs, keyboards, and tabletops.

Teachers have talked to students about hand-washing and proper sneezing and coughing techniques. Posters hang in

restrooms reminding students to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.

"We are hoping for the best, but planning for the worst," Ottawa Hills Superintendent Cathleen Heidelberg said. "We don't want to overreact, but at the same time we want to be prepared."

She said Ottawa Hills has beefed up its substitute lists for teachers and other staff members knowing that it will be difficult to have school if employees get the flu.

At St. John's Jesuit High School, Principal Brad Bonham said teachers were told before the school year began to create a four-week online instruction plan that could be deployed in case the school had to close due to a flu outbreak.

"We want to be able to continue the education, continue the learning," he said. "We didn't want it to just be a four-week vacation."

Nancy Crandell, communications director for Sylvania City Schools, said the district has enlisted the support of parents, asking that they keep children home when they're sick.

In Oregon, Mr. Zalar said it's equally important that children come to school when they're healthy.

"If they're not sick, school is open and in session," he said. "Our regular policies and procedures are in effect."

Toledo Public Schools spokesman Patty Mazur said the district has had no confirmed cases this year but is prepared to communicate with parents "as appropriate in ways necessary to keep everyone safe."

In the Washington Local Schools, some students have missed school because of fevers and flu-like symptoms, but none has been confirmed for H1N1, said Neil Rochotte, director of student services.

He said the district is staying in close contact with the health department but wants to "have a balanced approach" as it communicates with parents about the illness.

"Most people who get it have typical flu-like symptoms and return to school or work without any need for any additional help," Mr. Rochotte said.

In Monroe County, superintendents of all public school districts have agreed to send letters to parents in the event a case of swine flu is confirmed.

Schools would not shut down under the consensus made by school districts with the cooperation of the county health department.

Mason Consolidated Superintendent David Drewyor said the letter would assure parents that affected areas in the building in which the student came into contact were sanitized.

"Once we have a confirmed case, we will contact parents to make them aware and reiterate all the precautions that are being taken," he said.

Notification to parents likely will include e-mail and text messages through the county instant alert system, Mr. Drewyor said.

Staff Writer Mark Reiter contributed to this report.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com,

or 419-724-6129.



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