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School district puts evolving plan in place to be prepared for pandemic flu outbreak

The Tyrone Area School District’s slogan is “The Steps To A Better Tomorrow,” and once again the district is honoring that by placing in effect an evolving plan to counter and/or respond to a potential worldwide pandemic flu outbreak.
School board members approved a district pandemic plan at last night’s board meeting, although steps in the plan began last fall when letters were sent out to school district parents and information was placed on the district’s website to help them prepare and learn about a flu pandemic that could potentially make many people sick.
Tyrone Area Middle and High School nurse Julie Patton presented the main points of the district’s plan to board members before final approval was granted. Patton, along with elementary school nurse Brenda Cowger and district administration, have been developing the ever-evolving plan for over a year.
The district’s pandemic plan consists of four main focuses – prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. Within that, there are assigned responsibilities and roles in the school district that involves all staff members from the administration on down. It also identifies community agencies that would be involved if a pandemic flu outbreak did occur.
Historically, there have been three pandemics in the twentieth century. The last one occurred in 1968. A pandemic that hit in the United States in 1918 held an approximate death toll of 500,000 people. Each time there was widespread illness and death, so the country might be overdue for an outbreak if history repeats itself.
Patton said the biggest pandemic flu outbreak concern is the Avian Flu, or Bird Flu. She said that health officials are worried that the gene could mutate, meaning that instead of going from bird to bird transmission, it would go from bird to human. Ultimately, the mutated gene could go from human to human, causing a worldwide outbreak.
Some of the problems that come with a pandemic flu outbreak compared to a seasonal flu outbreak include: little or no pre-existing immunity, healthy people may be at risk for serious complications, health systems may be overwhelmed, a vaccine probably wouldn’t be available in the early stages of the pandemic, effective antivirals may be in limited supply, symptoms may be more severe and complications more frequent, and the potential for severe impact on domestic and world economy.
“If this should occur it would be a massive undertaking for our society,” stated Patton. “Not just the health care and educational system, but society in general – so the idea is for us to be prepared before it happens.”
Patton noted that the school district has already addressed some of the issues under preparedness in the plan, by providing general information to parents on good hygiene, such as covering mouths when sneezing, washing hands, and keeping sick kids from school so they aren’t likely transmitting their sickness to other kids.
“We’re working on preparedness and prevention, and hopefully we won’t get to the latter stages of the plan, which are response and recovery,” said Patton. “It’s difficult to prepare for something you don’t want to happen, but the school district takes it very seriously – the key is that we work together to be prepared.”
The United States Department of Health and Human Services would be responsible to make the decision to close down schools when a pandemic flu outbreak occurs. When over 10 percent of student enrollment in a building or grade level became sick at one time, the school district would report that to the Department of Health and decisions would be made from there.
Tyrone Area School Board President Lee Stover said that the district handles all the children in the surrounding community, so the district would most likely be the first place spotted if any incidents of problems occurred. He thinks the school district’s plan and training will be very important.
“I think having a plan in place and being proactive is way better than trying to be reactive,” added Stover. “It gives us a quicker approach to getting things done by having a plan in place, but I hope we never have to use it.”
Superintendent Dr. William Miller agreed with Stover on having to enact the plan, adding that the plan is required to be put together to protect the students, community, and the safety of everyone.