Archdiocese, state continue to monitor H1N1 in Catholic schools

BRAINTREE ? Archdiocesan officials, including Associate Superintendent for Academic Excellence Bill McKersie and Director of Parish Services and Risk Management Joe McEnness, have been working closely with health department officials from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and archdiocesan Catholic school principals to monitor the presence of the H1N1 virus, commonly called swine flu, in the schools.

“On any given day, I have had five, six, or seven calls from schools,” said McKersie.

A number of archdiocesan schools have reported a large number of student and faculty absences due to flu-like symptoms.

McKersie said that the student absence rate due to the flu has ranged from 10 to 45- percent in separate schools across the archdiocese. He said that one school has reported rates as high as 45-percent.

Faculty and staff absence rates at that same school, however, were at 10-percent, he said.

St. Catherine School in Norwood, which closed for five school days on Oct. 30, reported a student absence rate of 20 to 30-percent due to the flu, identical to the faculty absence rate there.

“Suddenly it became very difficult to be a good educational setting for kids,” McKersie said.

St. Catherine’s is set to reopen on Nov. 9, according to a letter from Principal Gretchen Hawley posted on the school’s website. In the meantime, the school will be sanitized.

The letter also stated that the length of closure is in accordance with the state Department of Public Health mandates.

“It has been recommended by the Board of Health that ill children and parents remain at home during the recovery of this illness to avoid the spread of the H1N1 flu virus,” Hawley’s letter states.

“State and local health officials have informed us that any and all flu-like symptoms are likely due to H1N1 since our area is not yet experiencing any of the seasonal flu-like outbreaks,” Hawley continued.

Hawley also encouraged parents to assist children in “keeping up with their assignments” during the closure. According to an update on the school’s website on Nov. 3, the school was open that day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. so parents could pick up textbooks and other materials for students to continue their schoolwork.

In the letter, she also encouraged proper hygiene ? covering coughs or sneezes with one’s elbow, washing hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, staying at home when ill and for five to seven days after flu-like symptoms first appear while the flu is still contagious, stay away from people who are sick, and obtain a flu vaccination.

Meanwhile, situations continue to be monitored by the archdiocese on a “case by case basis,” McKersie said.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s web site, the H1N1 flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, and even vomiting and diarrhea in some people. Respiratory symptoms may be present without a fever.