Parents Debate Sending Children to School as Maryland Officials Urge Caution

By Lori Aratani and Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 30, 2009

The word came so late in the school day yesterday that officials couldn't send a letter to parents, so they resorted to e-mails and phone calls: A student at Folger McKinsey Elementary School in Severna Park was one of six probable cases of swine flu in Maryland.

"I heard this morning that a toddler died in Texas. And now, suddenly, there's a case in my back yard," said Beth Pendergast, whose daughter Danielle is a third-grader at Folger. "To be honest, my family is scared, and I'm scared. Even though they're taking all the precautions, it's still my child. At this point, there's no way I'm sending her to school tomorrow."

The six people represent the first possible cases of swine flu to reach the Washington region. The announcement set off debates for parents about whether to send children to school as officials urged residents to remain calm and said that efforts to stockpile medications were expanding.

The six probable cases are the Folger student and two family members who live in Anne Arundel County and three people in Baltimore County, including a high school student, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and state health officials said at a news conference that began at 3:30 p.m.

At a news conference last night, President Obama recommended that schools with suspected cases of swine flu strongly consider closing. But a spokesman for O'Malley said afterward that Maryland schools would remain open. "At this point it doesn't appear that it's necessary given the probable cases in Maryland," spokesman Shaun Adamec said.

Additionally, 10 students at the University of Delaware are thought to be infected with the virus, which is spreading around the world and has led to at least one death in the United States. A toddler from Mexico City died Monday in Texas.

Health officials said that none of the three Anne Arundel family members had traveled abroad recently but that a fourth family member had recently been to Mexico, where the virus appears to have originated.

Two of the Baltimore County cases are members of the same family, and one had recently been to Mexico. The third case is not related to the other two. It was not clear which of the three is the high school student.

Maryland and Delaware health officials said that the federal Centers for Disease Control in Prevention were testing the suspected cases and that the results could be released today. None of the infections appeared to be life-threatening, none of the people had been hospitalized and most appeared to be recovering.

The public should be prepared for more infections, officials said. In addition to the six Maryland cases that have been sent to the CDC in Atlanta for confirmation, six other samples were being analyzed by a state lab for preliminary signs of swine flu.

No cases had been reported in the District or Virginia.

Officials continued to urge people to take common-sense precautions, such as frequently washing hands, covering their mouths when coughing and staying home if feeling ill.

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