On the eve of children returning to two Chandler elementary schools closed after classmates fell ill with swine flu, Maricopa County’s public health authority is explaining his decision to scale back the initial aggressive response.
Dr. Bob England, in a letter sent home Monday with all students in the county, said swine flu appears to pose the same threat as the typical seasonal outbreaks. Therefore, he said, schools can remain open, and students can still participate in extracurricular activities, such as proms, graduations and field trips.
“Basically, your Public Health Department is handling this new flu outbreak in the same way we handle any flu outbreak, only more diligently,” England’s letter said.
Last week, confirmed cases of swine flu resulted in the closure of three public elementary schools in the county, including Chandler’s Hartford Sylvia Encinas and Tarwater. Both schools had a girl briefly sickened, but not hospitalized, with swine flu.
The closures, announced last Thursday, affected about 1,500 students. Initially, the schools were to be shut until Friday, but England’s office said over the weekend it was determined such long dismissals no longer were necessary.
“Closing all schools for a time might help, " England said, “but the disease does not seem severe enough to warrant the disruption to your lives, to your child’s education and to the community that would result.”
“After all, we don’t close schools every year for regular, seasonal flu.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting, as of Monday morning, 286 confirmed cases in 36 states.
The only reported U.S. death is that of a Mexican toddler whose family brought him to Texas for treatment.
According to the World Health Organization, 21 countries have officially reported 1,085 cases. Mexico, where the outbreak seems to have started, has reported 590 confirmed human cases, including 25 deaths.
Swine flu, officially known as H1N1 influenza, produces symptoms similar to other strains of influenza: a moderate fever, sore throat, body aches and exhaustion.