The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department is seeing an increase in influenza related illnesses affecting schools throughout Ohio County as well as other county school systems in West Virginia. The health department is working with school nursing personnel and school administrative staff to monitor cases. The health department recognizes the challenges schools are faced during the influenza season and the balance between keeping the kids in school and parental pressure to close schools.
In general, the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department as well as the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health does not recommend closing schools for seasonal influenza unless schools are unable to maintain a safe school environment.
Implementation of school closure requires a clear understanding of community health challenges, and an evaluation of potential health benefits weighed against economic and social costs. Some of the factors to consider:
- Additional cleaning for influenza is unnecessary because no additional precautions need to be taken to kill the virus above routine cleaning of the school.
- Social distancing needed to break the transmission is often not achieved by closing schools because children congregate in other settings including daycares, visiting friends/family, and meeting up in other congregate settings.
- Longer school closures are needed to break the transmission of the virus because the incubation period for influenza can be up to 4 days. This can be costly to families and have negative social impacts on children who rely on school meals as their source of reliable food.
To prevent and control influenza illnesses among students and their families, the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department recommends the following:
- Encourage students, parents, and staff to get a yearly flu vaccine.
- Encourage students, parents, and staff to take everyday preventive actions (e.g. stay home when sick, use proper respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene, and conduct routine surface cleaning) to stop the spread of germs.
- Avoid close contact with those who are ill (respiratory or GI).
- Stay home from school or work when sick (at least 24 hours after a fever subsides).
The health department and county school staff will continue to track absenteeism and look for any increases in absenteeism. School staff will continue to report school specific outbreaks of influenza or influenza-like illness (ILI) immediately to the health department.
If the need arises to close a school or schools due to an influenza outbreak and a healthy and safe school environment is unable to be maintained, a collective decision regarding school closure will be made between school administration and county/state health officials.