Locally, Wisconsin remains at the top of the list for reported H1N1 cases in the country, with a total 6,441 probable or confirmed cases having been reported in the state since the outbreak began. Kaukauna Area Public Schools reported outbreaks as of Sept. 11, while cases among students at UW-Madison are increasing to the point that the school has set aside four isolation wards.
Catholic school precautions
While the local incidence rate remains low at this time, schools in the Green Bay Diocese are being updated on the most recent CDC guidelines, according to Holly Rottier, Catholic Schools Director. She said that the diocese and local schools are monitoring the latest government guidelines. A program statement was sent to all Catholic school principals on Sept. 14.
“Fever, cough, and sore throat are the main flu symptoms currently presenting,” said Rottier. “If a child exhibits those symptoms, they should wear a medical mask, be isolated as best as possible, and the parents should come to school to get them as quickly as possible. Children may come back to school once their fever has been gone for 24 hours without fever reducer medication.”
The diocesan guidelines recommend that local Catholic schools and school systems remain in contact with local health departments and work with local public schools “to develop a ‘pandemic plan,'” as outlined by Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction.
For the moment, schools will remain open as the flu begins to spread. However, the diocesan guidelines state that, if any school sees a 15 percent absentee rate, the principal should contact the diocesan education department to discuss the situation.
Rottier added that, beside following the CDC precautions for avoiding the flu, teachers are also being instructed to disinfect the surfaces in their classrooms each day.
While an H1N1 vaccine is not yet available, school children are in the recommended group (ages 6 months to 24 years) to receive a vaccine, which is expected to be out by mid-October. Rottier said that parents have expressed some concern about the vaccines, about “the same amount of trepidation with the H1N1 vaccine as they have with other vaccinations.”
How to avoid flu
The CDC recommends the following precautions to avoid catching the flu:
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away after you use it.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezeing. Alcohol based hand cleaners are also effective.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
• If you are have a flu-like illness, stay home at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
More information on the H1N1 flu can be found at this link.
Diocese as a whole
The Diocese of Green Bay, on April 27, sent an H1N1 advisory to its parishes. Its guidelines remain in effect, including the suggestions about the sign of peace and drinking from the cup at Communion. At that time, Bishop David Ricken also granted pastors and priest moderators permission to restrict the following liturgical practices for the time period of the current public health concerns:
• shaking hands at the sign of peace
• receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, and
• drinking the Precious Blood from the chalice.
The diocese further recommends following the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of the Liturgy guidelines for outbreaks of colds and flu. These include:
• Encouraging all who distribute Communion to wash their hands before Mass begins, or even to use an alcohol based anti-bacterial solution before and after distributing holy Communion;
• That persons who have been directed by their medical advisors that they are particularly susceptible to infection may refrain from any practices by which they might become sick, including shaking hands, receiving holy Communion on the tongue, and drinking the Precious Blood from the chalice.
The current diocesan H1N1 guidelines can be found at this link.
Also recommended by the diocese, and being issued to all parishes Sept. 16, is an information page from the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship. It addresses various questions, including what should be done during Mass in areas of outbreak. It is located at this link.