GLOVERSVILLE - Public health officials say there's no reason to be alarmed about the spread of H1N1, but area educators are taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach to the virus known as swine flu as the new school year approaches.
"I'm concerned about it," said Fonda-Fultonville School District Superintendent James Hoffman. "I'm hopeful I'm doing a lot of work for nothing."
He and other area school leaders say they are keeping abreast of reports on the swine flu threat, ordering bottles of hand sanitizer, and consulting with county health officials as they prepare for the start of school Sept 9.
(The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)
Gloversville Middle School janitor Peter Anagnostopulos cleans at the school Thursday in preparation for the new school year. Area schools are putting extra emphasis on hygiene due to the spread of swine flu.
Gloversville Enlarged School District Superintendent Robert DeLilli said his school system is following through with guidelines from the state Department of Health and the CDC to head off potential swine flu cases.
"The kids will be told to wash their hands thoroughly and if they're sick, stay at home," DeLilli said.
The first cases of the H1N1 virus appeared in the United States in March and April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By the end of April, the federal government had declared a public health emergency. Cases of H1N1 have since been reported in all 50 states.
The CDC Web site says health officials think swine flu spreads in the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread, mainly through the coughs and sneezes of people who are sick with the virus, but it also may be spread by touching infected objects and then touching one's nose or mouth. Novel H1N1 infection has been reported to cause a wide range of flulike symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. In addition, many people also have reported nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
A White House advisory panel recently issued a report saying swine flu could cause up to 90,000 deaths in the United States, mostly among children and young people. The panel also said up to 1.8 million people could be hospitalized, with 50 percent to 100 percent of the intensive-care beds in some cities filled with swine flu patients. Up to half the American population could be infected by this winter, the panel said.
The CDC, however, has said the rate of flu-related deaths this summer has not necessarily been higher than normal.
"The CDC is really backing away from closing schools," said Fulton County Public Health Department Director Denise Frederick.
Frederick will be meeting with her counterparts in Montgomery and Hamilton counties for a meeting Sept. 10 at the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services' Vo-Tec Center. She said the meeting will include BOCES Superintendent Geoffrey Davis as well as the superintendents of all the 18 BOCES component school districts to go over the most up-to-date health information about swine flu.
In the interim, Frederick said, many of the precautions school districts are taking - such as urging students to keep their hands clean and stay home if they're sick - are good first steps.
"That is what we're pushing ... good infection control," Frederick said.
She said area health officials should know by early fall whether students will need to be immunized for swine flu. She said the state Department of Health and the CDC are estimating such vaccinations might not be available until October.
Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Katherine Sullivan said she's concerned about swine flu and will be one of those attending the Sept. 10 meeting.
"I contacted Dr. Davis and I contacted the Fulton County Public Health Department because I think it's important we're all on the same page," she said.
Sullivan said her district's physician, Dr. Richard Solby, will be meeting with school nurses Thursday. She said she's also asked the Johnstown school building principals to invite faculty to a Sept. 8 meeting to discuss swine flu and other issues. She said the district may have teachers instruct students on proper health habits.
Sullivan the district's Web site, www.johnstownschools.org, has information and links about the swine flu situation.
DeLilli said administrators have been discussing the start of the school years with all of the Gloversville schools' staff members, urging discussion about hand sanitizing. He said the Buildings and Grounds Department also is putting extra emphasis on cleaning this school year.
"We've been advised to do what we normally do and really emphasize hygiene," DeLilli said.
Davis said he's already provided some guidelines to all the BOCES districts. He said he's urging all component boards of education to take their cues about swine flu preparedness from county public health officials.
Montgomery County already has asked all its school districts to prepare buildings for potential mass evacuation sites, Davis said. He said he will closely monitor the situation and consider at what point it might be necessary to close schools.
"I've been involved in a number of health issues like this," Davis said, pointing to head lice as an example.
He said parents typically want school boards to do something, but the public health officials are the ones to be consulted.
"A lot of the responsibility on this rests with the parents," Daivs said. He said they should not send their kids to school if they have flu-like symptoms.
If vaccinations have to be given, Davis said, BOCES will play an important role.
Fulton-Montgomery Community College President Dustin Swanger said his institution, next to HFM BOCES on Route 67, already began preparing for swine flu in the spring.
"We'll hit it again this fall," Swanger said, noting each college building already has signs posted about washing hands frequently. The college is a potential vaccination center, and Swanger ordered hand sanitizer dispensers be installed for all the buildings on campus.
Students at Campus View housing at FMCC also are being advised about infection control, Swanger said.
Swanger said the college custodial staff is being urged to wipe down door knobs and clean "a little more than normal."
He said he may have to shut the college down at some point due to swine flu, but said he would be "very surprised if it happened."
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.