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Flu season causes challenges for schools, medical professionals

Flu season is in full swing across the United States, and the 2019-2020 fight against the virus has medical professionals baffled and school administrators and teachers working overtime to keep schools clean and students well. 

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in students who are becoming sick,” said Hartselle Superintendent Dee Dee Jones. “We aren’t at the point where we have to look at closing schools or anything like that, though.” 

The 2019-2020 flu season is “double-barreled, meaning two flu outbreaks are overlapping each other. This is a pretty uncommon occurrence and can be a headache for medical professionals. 

“It’s important that people know you can contract two separate strands of the flu in the same season,” noted Annette Huell, a spokesperson for American Family Care urgent clinics. “Getting a flu shot is the most effective way to prevent the flu, but it is not a guarantee against sickness. It’s rare that a patient ends up catching the flu more than once in a season, but it’s possible.” 

An abnormally early start to the flu season has also caused an increase in the number of patients who have received positive test result for either strand of the virus.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent figures, approximately 18 million people have gotten the flu this year. That number includes more than 200,000 people who have been hospitalized. 

“We’ve seen activity taper off the past two weeks, but flu numbers are still elevated,” Huell said. “Positive cases were reported very early this year, so that’s where a lot of the early heightened activity probably comes from.”  

Jones said the school system has begun taking precautions to avoid spreading the virus throughout the system. 

“We sent information out to parents about the flu a few days ago,” she said. “We wanted to make sure they remember not to send their children to school if they are running a fever and to remind them to be washing their hands – things of that nature.  

We’ve also been continuously wiping down classrooms and deep cleaning the schools. Our goal is to ward off all possible traces.” 

She also said the system will be closely monitoring the virus throughout the season. 

“It’s definitely something we keep an eye on,” she said. “We have a threshold that would trigger closing schools because of the flu, but we aren’t close to that number right now. Our nurses are working with the students and parents to prevent sickness, so hopefully we don’t get close.” 

Mallary Underwood, who has two children in Hartselle elementary schools, said she appreciates Jones’ approach to the season. 

“I can’t imagine the work that goes into keeping the schools clean right now,” she said. “We have five people in our house, and the flu has already made an appearance. The fact that they can keep hundreds of kids safe says a lot about they work they do.  

I’m sure a lot of Clorox wipes are getting used in these buildings.”