No pandemic panic locally
New Richmond schools sent a letter to parents on Friday seeking to answer questions some may have about plans for dealing with a possible H1N1 flu outbreak in the area.
Through the letter, District Administrator Morrie Veilleux sought to assure the community that the schools' ultimate goal is to ensure the safety and health of students.
"We have taken a proactive approach and have been closely monitoring developments in this matter," he wrote.
Veilleux reported that school custodians are now intensively cleaning the buildings after each school day.
He noted that employees are using "appropriate and safe disinfectants on as many surfaces as possible to help control the spread of infection."
Teachers and staff are also working with students to make sure that they wash their hands regularly and to reinforce healthy habits, Veilleux wrote.
Veilleux urged parents to keep their children at home if the students are sick, so as to not spread the flu to others.
Veilleux did warn that if a local student or employee is eventually diagnosed with H1N1 flu, public health officials likely would require schools to be shut down.
He said the schools would remain closed for a period of time and he encouraged area residents to plan ahead for that possibility.
"I would request that parents begin making contingency plans for child care should this situation occur," he wrote.
District School Nurse Joan Simpson said the district hasn't noticed a huge increase in questions about the flu outbreak over the past week, but there have been several calls.
Some people have called asking if there has been a case of H1N1 in New Richmond and others have asked about how long the schools would close if a case occurs locally. The answers: "No" and "it's hard to say."
"Use good precautions, stay home if ill and seek medical attention as needed" is the advice school officials are giving people when they ask about how to avoid coming down with the illness, Simpson said.
The district is partnering with the St. Croix County Public Health Department, the Department of Public Instruction, the National Association of School Nurses and the Center for Disease Control in making plans for dealing with a possible outbreak.
The St. Croix County Public Health Department has opened a phone bank to answer residents' questions about the H1N1 flu outbreak and related topics.
If area residents have questions, they can call 715-246-8224, according to Public Health Officer Wendy Kramer.
The phone bank, which was instituted on Friday, is just one source of local information on the flu topic. Residents can also check the St. Croix County Web site (http://www.co.saint- croix.wi.us/) to look at regular updates about flu news. They can also visit the Center for Disease Control's Web site (http://www.cdc.gov/) or the State of Wisconsin site (http://pandemic.wisconsin.gov/) for additional information.
The New Richmond School District Web site (http://www.newrichmond.k12.wi.us/) also has information available on the topic.
Kramer said county officials continue to meet to discuss plans for dealing with an H1N1 outbreak if it occurs in this area.
"We've had a preparedness plan in place for several years now," she said.
An incident command center has been established in Kramer's New Richmond office, where daily updates on flu information are issued to staff and health care professionals in the region.
Kramer said her office is also sending regular e-mails to schools, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other care facilities to keep people abreast of any news.
At Westfields Hospital, Charlene Rae Mayry, registered nurse, infection preventionist, said area residents are "exhibiting normal concern" but not panic surrounding the media coverage of the current flu outbreak.
The local hospital has a flu pandemic plan in place and is ready to be implement it if needed.
"We have disaster and preparedness drills several times a year, that includes practicing for pandemic scenarios," she said.
If suspected influenza cases show up at Westfields, Mayry said the facility will place patients in an isolation room away from others. Doctors and staff will also use personal protective equipment (like masks, gloves and gowns) to reduce the threat of contracting and spreading the flu.