U.S Officials Say Colleges Should Suspend Classes if Swine Flu Spreads

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 21, 2009

Federal officials said Thursday that colleges should consider suspending classes this fall if the H1N1 flu virus begins to cause severe illness in a significantly larger share of students than it did in the spring.

A document released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stresses "self-isolation" of sick students and employees until a full day after fever subsides. Officials are urging schools to suspend any rules -- such as penalties for late papers or missed classes, or a required doctor's note -- that might prompt ill people to venture out.

"We're hoping we're on track to be out ahead of this virus," said Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. secretary of health and human services.

Health officials said students can do their part by washing their hands and covering coughs and also by wiping down keyboards, doorknobs, remote-control devices and other oft-touched items. Colleges should redouble efforts to disinfect elevator buttons and faucet handles, the officials said.

Colleges and universities in the Washington area have started setting up hand-sanitizer stations and hanging posters about hygiene to prepare for an outbreak of swine flu. Officials at several schools said they will tell students to stay in their dorm rooms if they fall ill and to contact their school's health office by telephone rather than in person.

The CDC document suggests that ill students should return home if their families live near campus -- and get there by taxi or private car, not bus or train. Those who cannot easily leave campus should stay in their room and pick a "flu buddy" to deliver food and supplies. Schools should consider temporary housing for students who lack private rooms.

Washington area colleges have struggled with the question of whether, and when, they might have to suspend operations because of the flu. The CDC said that class suspension "might be needed when [colleges] cannot maintain normal functioning." The agency said it may recommend class suspension "if the flu starts to cause severe disease in a significantly larger proportion of those affected than occurred" during the spring outbreak.

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