Back to school means preparing for another round of Swine Flu

By Seth Daniel

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The Swine Flu may not have had its last oink just yet, as city and school officials are preparing plans for a possible re-emergence of the sickness during the first weeks of the new school year.

Health Agent Nick Catinazzo said that a panel consisting of the Police Chief, the Fire Chief, the City Nurse, Mayor Tom Ambrosino and several school officials would be meeting this week to discuss the situation and to formulate an appropriate response plan.

Catinazzo said that the city and state would not be taken by surprise this year, as so many cities and towns across the state were last spring when the Swine Flu burst upon the scene and forced the closure of schools in Boston.

“I think we need a consistent policy and that’s what the region didn’t have [last spring],” said Catinazzo. “Now, we have a good group in place and we’ll have a good plan to handle it if it comes back. Thank goodness the school year ended when it did last spring. Every day was getting more and more stressful. We’ll probably know within the first six weeks of the school year where this [sickness] is going.”

At the state and federal level, health officials are directing local governments to begin preparing for an outbreak. Federal officials believe that once school is back in session, kids will begin spreading the flu again.

With school starting this Thursday, Aug. 27, Revere officials are preparing for the worst.

“All the signs say it will come back and will come back in a more aggressive manner,” said Superintendent Paul Dakin. “There’s big concerns because 63 percent of the cases last spring were in people under 18…The goal this year is to work hard to keep schools open.”

Said Catinazzo, “We don’t know if it’s going to happen, but all the indicators suggest that it probably will happen. Right now, we have the regular flu season we’re preparing for and now the Swine Flu too. There are two different vaccinations for the Swine Flu and the regular flu.”

Catinazzo said that the city’s Health Department would be in charge of administering Swine Flu vaccinations, and that right now there is a shortage.

Questions about the vaccination and any potential outbreak are still being pounded out at the state and federal level.

“They’re changing all the protocols [for flu vaccinations],” said Catinazzo. “We’re still learning too.”

One thing that the local working group expects to hammer out is procedures for isolating kids with symptoms and for sending them home. Also, they would like to have a clear-cut plan as to when a school would be closed due to a flu outbreak.

That was one thing that became quite a problem last year, as Boston shut down several schools and Revere did not.

“It puts pressure on cities like Revere when Boston closes its schools for a flu outbreak and we don’t,” said Catinazzo. “Parents call and wonder why we don’t also close our schools. If we can have a policy to point to, it will help a lot.”

Dakin said that there are many new suggestions being floated to schools, such as allowing kids back in school 24 hours after their fever breaks instead of the 7-day period implemented last year. However, other regulations would call for keeping siblings without the sickness home from school as well.

“That would be one that’s very tough to follow through with,” he said. “I don’t know how we’ll deal with that, but maybe it will change. Literally, things coming across my desk [on this] change every day.”

Dakin said that informational literature from the state would be sent out several weeks after school starts so that it won’t get mixed up with the usual back-to-school paperwork.

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