LILBURN - Providence Christian Academy has a message for sick students: Stay home.
As part of its comprehensive plan to limit exposure to the influenza virus, the private Christian school won't hand out perfect attendance awards, school officials said. By shelving the award, the school hopes students sickened with the flu will do what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
"Kids need to stay home when they're sick," said Marty McQuaig, Providence Christian Academy's campus nurse. "When you encourage the perfect attendance award, you'll have students who want to come to school sick."
After the outbreak of H1N1 influenza - commonly referred to as swine flu - earlier this year, some schools with ill students shut down to prevent the spread of the virus.
"We saw at the end of the last school year how something like this could impact the school community," McQuaig said. "We don't know what this flu season's going to look like."
Updated federal guidelines for state and local public health and school officials announced Friday focus primarily on prevention. The guidance said officials should balance the risk of flu in their communities with the disruption that school dismissals will cause in education and the wider community, according to a news release.
"We're going to continue to do everything possible to keep our children - and all Americans - healthy and safe this fall," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "But all Americans also have a part to play. The best way to prevent the spread of flu is vaccination. A seasonal flu vaccine is ready to go, and we should have one for the 2009 H1N1 flu by mid-October."
For an outbreak similar in severity to the spring H1N1 infection, the guidelines recommend basic good hygiene, such as hand washing. In addition, students or staff members who are showing symptoms of the flu should stay home at least 24 hours after fever symptoms have ended, the news release states.
"We can all work to keep our children healthy now by practicing prevention, close monitoring, and using common sense," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "We hope no schools have to close. But if they do, we need to make sure that children keep learning."
The guidelines also recommend schools have plans in place to deal with possible infection. For instance, people with flu-like illness should be sent to a room away from other people until they can be sent home. Schools should have plans for continuing the education of students who are at home, through phone calls, homework packets, Internet lessons and other approaches. And schools should have contingency plans to fill important positions such as school nurses.
"Influenza can be unpredictable, so preparation and planning are key," CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said. "We can't stop the tide of flu, but we can reduce the number of people who become very ill by preparing well and acting effectively."
Providence Christian Academy's plan contains four main priorities: Good hand hygiene, social distancing, isolation of sick kids from well kids and communicating the need to parents for them to have a plan, Headmaster Jim Vaught said.
"We're gong to prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Vaught said.
McQuaig said the school will continue to emphasize the importance of frequent hand washing and respiratory etiquette, such as coughing into a tissue. Additionally, the school has purchased hand sanitizers and placed them in foyer areas. The alcohol-based foam sanitizer is strong enough to kill germs.
When students develop a fever of at least 99.5 degrees, McQuaig said they will be placed in isolation areas separate from the clinic to distance them from students who need to visit the clinic to get a bandage, for example. Each building on the campus has a conference room that can be used as an isolation area, Vaught said.
The school will encourage students who have fevers to stay home and not return to school until they are fever free for at least 24 hours without medication, including Tylenol, McQuaig said. Vaught said sick staff members will also be encouraged to stay at home.
Parents will also be asked to develop a plan with their employers in case their child becomes ill, McQuaig said.
"Our plan is to catch a child that's ill early and try to get them out of the general population before everyone else gets sick," she said.