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Districts revamp flu, infectious disease plans

MARYSVILLE Several local school districts are reviewing their policies for dealing with influenza and other infectious diseases, planning for the worst, while the Snohomish County Health District says this winter has been business as usual for the flu bug.
The Lakewood School District recently completed a response plan for an influenza pandemic to complement the infectious disease plan already on the books. But Superintendent Larry Francois said the new policy would apply to only to the worst epidemics that would likely shut down many other government and business activities as well. Current policy does a good job of keeping a lid on communicable diseases, he added.
Recently two Seattle-area school children died of complications from influenza, putting a spotlight on the virus. Lakewood wanted to prepare for the worst, and Francois noted that Lakewood High School is one of 10 strategic locations around the county to help health officials deal with an outbreak in the wider community.
This is a new thing for us, Francois said of the pandemic flu plan. Its kind of a special plan for what the health experts say will be an issue. Obviously its something we hope we never have to put into place.
He noted that putting 30 kids into a room in close proximity, with sneezing, coughing and sharing books and tools, then mixing them together and then repeating five or six times each day is a recipe for disaster in case of a pandemic.
Were perfect breeding grounds for that kind of thing, Francois said.
The caution is wise but fortunately nothing of that magnitude is imminent, according to Dave Peterson, director of the communicable disease division for the Snohomish County Health District, despite the two Seattle deaths.
Thats not really applicable to the current situation in Snohomish County, Peterson said. What we are experiencing currently is a typical flu season around the country. This is not unusual for influenza at all.
Arlington is in the process of reviewing and updating its policy, and has hired a new district nurse who will be an integral part of the plan, according to spokesperson Misti Gilman. Former Arlington Police Chief Steve Robinson is spearheading the effort, which is also looking at things the wider community might need to be involved with.
Not only with our school plan, we are working with other agencies, Gilman said, noting that the Arlington School Districts goal is to be able to function without external help for at least two weeks. As with Lakewoods strategy, the district is assuming that in any scenario other parts of the community will be drastically effected as well.
It will be one part of our emergency preparedness plans, Gilman explained. Its one of the things you plan, and plan and plan for and you hope it never happens.
One tool to rely on is the Connect-Ed program which gives the district the ability to reach up to six family members of each student in about a minute. Its not clear how fast administrators might have to move as a flu outbreak occurs, but Gilman said Arlington is trying to cover all bases.
Between our emergency flu planning that we are doing city wide, we have that Connect-Ed to rely on, Gilman said.
In an outbreak learning will probably take a backseat, but a small corps of healthy staffers might be able to help with lessons or provide assistance via phone or email. Some of the people who are at home and are well would probably like to be able to keep their kids busy and Gilman said the district could probably help them.
That will probably will be lower on our priorities, she said. We will probably be trying to keep people well. But its do-able.
According to Peterson the flu season in North America generally runs from October through April, and that varies across the country is patterns. The current flu activity isnt really affected by the warmer weather, he added.
This is not unusual for influenza at all.
Influenza is a virus, and at any given time there are a number of different strains active, and they occur in different frequencies. Thats why flu antigens are tweaked each year, and their might be several strains in play. Ergo, the recommended annual flu shots to inoculate potential victims.
Nancy Furness is a registered nurse and special assistant for emergency preparedness with the Snohomish Health District. Her duties include planning for events from pandemics to bio-terrorism attacks. Sites around the county are selected that would be easy to get to, where medicine or immunizations could be provided on a large scale to people.
At Marysville Schools administrators keep an eye on absentee rates and draw a red line at the 10 percent mark, according to assistant superintendent Gail Miller, who said elementary school generally have four to six percent of students out sick at any given time. Secondary schools have a higher average rate, she added.
We had one school close to 10 percent recently, Miller said. When the absentee rate approaches 10 percent we want to know whats going on, because normally we dont have that kind of absentee rate.
As for a pandemic policy, the district follows Snohomish County policies and guidelines and has a team working on an update. They are following the lead of the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instructions office and will be mirroring the new update of the Seattle Public School system policies.
We do have a team working on that, Miller said. So were pretty close to having one.
She noted that the influence and penalties of the Becca bill requiring school districts to account for absent children can prompt some families to send their kids to school for fear of breaking the law, and that led to some chats with parents.
Mostly I think our families are pretty good at keeping their kids home when they are ill, Miller said.

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