District nurse: 'We'll do everything we can to keep schools open'

With parents worried about swine flu and its potential to close a school, Bonnie Dellner, Douglas County School District's chief nurse, clarified what's a new strategy emerging from health officials and school districts across the country - keep schools open.

"What the state is saying now is that we should try to not shut down schools," Dellner said on Thursday. "We will do everything we can to keep the schools open."

In a previous interview, Dellner said a school would likely be closed if a group of students comes down with the swine flu. That's changed, Dellner said. Now, health officials are advising school closures only for epidemics - large numbers of students infected.

"That means a lot of kids all coming down at once, and not just at one school," Dellner said. "It would have to be a widespread thing."

Dellner said closure is a last resort. She said preventative measures, good hygiene, handwashing, staying home if sick, trump any kind of reactive measure.

"The media has played a large part in the panic," Dellner said. "They keep putting warnings out there that big outbreaks are coming. I do not want parents to feel panicky. School closings are not what we want to do. Our emphasis is on prevention."

Superintendent Carol Lark said she and other staff members met with a handful of officials from the Nevada State Health Division on Wednesday night.

"We're now coordinating on a state-wide basis," Lark said. "Some parents are under the impression that we're going to close a school. That is not an automatic."

Lark said confirmed swine flu cases will be treated as most flu bugs are treated during the flu season. She said in the case of an epidemic, she would communicate with the state health officer, but that the decision to close a school would ultimately be up to the state superintendent and top health officials.

"Now we do have a plan in place, so we're all on the same page," Lark said.

Another part of that plan is the distribution of swine flu vaccines to students sometime this fall. Lark said school districts will be working with the state on the vaccinations, and that school sites will serve as dissemination points for children. She said the vaccines will be voluntary.

"We'd make sure we have parent permission," Lark said.

A swine flu fact sheet will be available on the district's Web site, dcsd.k12.nv.us.

More information on swine flu can be found at health.nv.gov.

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