Government eases fears on swine flu in schools

Urges limited shutdowns, and earlier returns

By Libby Quaid
Associated Press / August 8, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The government said yesterday that schools should only close this fall if large numbers of students have swine flu, and could allow their sick students to return 24 hours after a fever is gone.

The decision on closing rests with local school officials, but they have been looking to the federal government for advice about the new flu strain that has caused a global epidemic.

The advice on sick children returning so soon is a change from previous recommendations that people with swine flu stay home for a week.

As the virus spread to students last spring, more than 700 schools nationwide temporarily closed their doors. The new flu is expected to hit schools again this fall, but the Obama administration is hoping to minimize closings and disruptions they cause for families.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano offered the advice on school closings, while the guidance on students returning came from Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unlike regular seasonal flu, this virus has not retreated during the hot and humid summer months and so far has infected more than 1 million Americans.

“We hope no schools have to close, but realistically, some schools will close this fall,’’ Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week during a forum with administration officials that was broadcast online.

“I’m dealing first and foremost as a parent,’’ Duncan said yesterday on a nationally broadcast news show. “I want to keep my children safe and keep them learning.’’ He said officials are asking parents to “use common sense’’ and encourage their children to vigorously wash their hands several times a day and take other safety precautions.

“We want to provide as many facts as we can’’ to local officials, he said. “Basically, this will be a tiered response. If there’s a handful of children at a school who might be sick, we want parents to keep them home. If the numbers escalate dramatically, we might have to close the schools.’’

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