A 'wake-up' call
WILLMAR -- Hearing that a probable case of swine flu caused the Rocori Middle School to close Wednesday is putting other area school districts on notice.
"When it gets that close to home and there's possibilities of how it can come to your community, it really is a wake-up call," said Peggy Dykema, school nurse for the New London-Spicer School District.
Earlier this week, when cases were reported in New York and Texas, there wasn't a lot of concern about students in the middle of Minnesota being vulnerable.
"Now you wonder," Dykema said.
The state Department of Health is awaiting confirmation that the probable case in Cold Spring is the "H1N1 novel influenza virus," more commonly referred to as the swine flu.
Superintendents from eight other schools districts close to the Rocori district had a telephone conference call Wednesday morning with the Minnesota Association of School Administrators to air questions and share ideas.
"We're all in the same boat together, so we put our heads together," said Todd Burlingame, superintendent of the Paynesville Area School District.
Matthew Bullard, acting superintendent and high school principal at Brooten-Belgrade-Elrosa, brought a unique issue to the conference call table.
Besides being geographically close to Rocori, BBE expects to see farm migrant workers arriving soon from Texas, where the first death from the swine flu was reported this week.
Bullard said there will be many "unknowns" about potential health issues when approximately 40 children of agricultural migrant workers come to the classroom this spring.
"It's a question that's out there," he said. "We're in the preventative stage."
BBE is not the only school district that offers a migrant school program. Bullard said the Department of Health has not contacted him about any potential health issues.
He said area schools are "nowhere near a state of panic" about the flu and are instead playing an important role in getting accurate information out to people that will help prevent the spread of the disease.
"This isn't something we have to push the panic button on," Bullard said. "It's about that whole aspect of educating people."
The eight superintendents discussed ways to make prevention effective.
That plan includes informing staff about health precautions, sending letters to parents and putting information on the school Web sites. The group even agreed that school athletic teams should not shake hands after games this spring to help prevent potential transmission of the flu, Burlingame said.
Dykema said NLS staff members have been advised to keep a close eye on students' health and to encourage kids to wash their hands thoroughly and repeatedly and to cover their cough.
She's also talked with staff and students who have traveled recently to Mexico to make them aware of the swine flu symptoms.
Dykema is sending letters to parents this week with additional precautionary measures, including reminders to keep children home from school if they have a fever or other flu symptoms.
She said there's "no reason to panic" about the current flu situation, but she did say the extra attention to the potential health threat is appropriate.
"It's important that we respond this way because prevention is just such a key," Dykema said.
If the flu case associated with Rocori does test positive as H1N1, Bullard said schools will continue to work with the Department of Health to "figure out what the next step is."
Burlingame said the area superintendents will hold another telephone conference call this morning. He's hoping the potential flu case in Cold Spring will be negative and the superintendents won't have much to talk about.