Clay County Schools have seen an increase in absences over the past few weeks, mostly because of illness. On Feb. 5, Clay Schools nurse Joanna Padgett confirmed our schools are experiencing higher rates of absentee students. “There has been a sustained increase of absenteeism noted since the Christmas break,” Padgett said. “There have been confirmed cases of influenza along with strep throat, stomach virus, upper respiratory infections among other things.”
Padgett said the illnesses were mostly reported by parents, guardians and some health care providers. “We don't have the means to determine what percentage is the flu,” she said. “The entire campus has seen an increase in the absentee rate.”
Hayesville Middle School Athletic Director Tammy Dills said absenteeism has impacted sports. “For athletics, we just finished basketball and wrestling,” she explained. “I can say we have had some of our athletes out of practice or games due to sickness. They either had the flu or strep. We even had one athlete to be diagnosed with both at the same time.”
Dills said some middle school faculty has been out because of sickness. She offered this advice she gives to athletes: “As a teacher-coach-athletic director, as soon as I hear of a player or several students being sick, I go in and spray all equipment, locks on lockers, faucets, doors, etc. and I wash all practice gear,” she said. “I send parents of our players a message informing them of the sickness and to take precautions. For the players, I encourage them to sanitize their gym bags, shoes and to carry hand sanitizer. I remind them do not drink after one another. For our students, I give a daily reminder always wash your hands and learn to open the restroom door with a paper towel. Also, by getting our washer and dryer installed, we are able to offer our seventh and eighth grade students two days a week free gym clothes washing. This helps with germs and personal hygiene, while at the same time helps those students who might not have easy access to a washer and dryer.”
Clay County Public Health Nursing Supervisor Clarissa Rogers shared similar information, including advice about when children should stay home from school due to illness. “Fevers are a symptom your body may be fighting off some germs and is also a common symptom of the flu,” she said.
Other advice from the health department includes:
• Keep children home until they are 24-hours fever free without any medications.
• Children with diarrhea should stay home and only return to school when stools are normal limits for your child.
• A sore throat may be a symptom of a cold or strep throat.
• Children with mild colds may attend school.
• Children who test positive for strep should stay home until completing at least 24 hours of antibiotic.
• Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is common, especially in small children. To avoid spreading the bacteria, children diagnosed with it must stay home until at least 24 hours after treatment with drops.
“If you have any questions concerning illnesses and when is the proper time-line for your child to return to school, contact the primary care provider for that guidance,” said Public Health Director Stephanie Johnson. “It is always a priority to prevent the spread of germs and keep our community healthy. Some of the main ways to help prevent that spread is to wash your hands, avoid contact with individuals who are known to have an illness, covering your coughs and sneezes and practice other good healthy lifestyle habits.”
The flu surveillance map at CDC.gov/flu shows North Carolina and 43 other states have high incidence of influenza. The U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network indicates 6.8 percent of patient visits nationwide for the week ending February 8 were due to influenza-like illness. The national baseline was 2.4 percent and about two thirds of the flu was Influenza A.
Fortunately, Clay County Schools have been able to remain open, but schools all over the country have temporarily closed their doors to stop the spread of illnesses like the flu. Even Cherokee County Schools remained closed Friday, Feb. 7 after closing early for weather the day before.
Cherokee Schools Superintendent Jeana Conley shared the Friday closure decision via Facebook on Thursday, Feb. 6. She mentioned flooded roads and other weather problems, but continued her message by addressing student illness. “The long weekend will further enable illness to subside and allow staff another day to clean and disinfect,” Conley’s message said. According to The Cherokee Scout, when schools resumed Monday, Feb. 10, most of them had less than 10 percent absenteeism.