Flu level plateaus; 'We're OK'

Friday, September 18, 2009

High rates of absenteeism due to flu-like symptoms, and the possibility of closing some Marshall County schools, were considered during a Safe and Drug Free Task Force meeting on Tuesday.

However, late Thursday morning, local absenteeism rates of nine to 13 percent - above normal but not enough to close schools for health reasons - were reported by Dr. Patsey Thomas, the director of coordinated school health.

"Last week, we did have some high numbers, but right now we're OK," Thomas said Thursday. "It's not at a dismissal rate right now because we are taking all the precautions. The custodians are sanitizing the buildings. The children are coughing and sneezing in the folds of their elbows, and everyone is sanitizing their hands.

"The parents have been really cooperative," Thomas continued. "Everybody's acting responsibly.

"Dr. Curtis said not to dismiss schools unless we neared 20 to 25 percent," she said Tuesday. "He said he would make the decision with the assistant director Roy Dukes, attendance supervisor Jackie Abernathy, and federal projects coordinator Linda Williams-Lee."

"I don't want to endanger staff," Thomas continued. "If a child says they are sick, they are contagious - the temperature will come later."

Dukes pointed out that the administration has the option of closing schools one at a time, rather that closing the whole system. Furthermore, lost days can be forgiven. They do not have to be made up.

High school students, in particular, are reluctant to be out of school due to the increased demands of the curriculum, and the homecoming games and festivities scheduled for the near future.

Blount County's Daily Times reports that two schools in Loudon County are closed this week, but that system planned to resume classes on Monday. In Monroe County, Madisonville Middle School reported a 30 percent absentee rate, and is also closed until next week. Alcoa City schools and Blount County schools were closed earlier this month.