In general, every American is feeling this same nagging concern. If not at a funeral, in restaurants, out shopping, while traveling, or anywhere else that requires some form of physical proximity to another human beings. Schools in particular seem to be, by many reports, the epicenter of the Swine Flu epidemic.
The Iroquois Central School District announced yesterday evening that they had reached an 18% absence rate due to ill faculty and students. According to NY state law, 20% absenteeism warrants closing school. (Here's the letter sent home to parents by the superintendent.) Other schools are attempting to curb the spread of germs by installing hand sanitizing stations in every room and hallway. Considering I spend most of my waking life in a school, should I be concerned?
Is it surprising that schools are germ-ridden places? Kids, by nature, are germy creatures. Somehow the classic depiction of boys with dirty fingernails and toads in their pockets has gone from innocent adolescence to the cause of all the world’s ills. Kids and schools haven’t gotten any dirtier – just our perception of them.
Anyone working in a school quickly learns how to stay healthy, just like any firefighter is quick to figure out how to avoid being burned on the job. I learned two important lessons after getting deathly ill during my first year teaching: Never eat and grade papers at the same time, and take all necessary precaution to touch your food as little as possible (regardless of how clean you think your hands may be). In fact, I still eat my sandwich everyday by using the Ziploc bag as a makeshift plastic glove. This has nothing to do with Swine Flu – it’s just what teachers do.
The same hysteria surrounding Swine Flu was what panicked parents and school personnel during the 2004 SARS outbreak, and again during 2007 with MERSA. Did people get sick? Yes – life threatening for some. But does that mean we need to use this outbreak as a reason to redefine how schools are operated? Probably not. If your school’s custodial staff is doing what they’re supposed to, and you are taking reasonable health precautions, things should be just fine.
Last night after leaving the claustrophobic funeral home, I found myself doing a mental examination of my body. Was my stomach feeling upset, or was it just hunger pains from a light dinner? Was that a sore throat coming on? All psychosomatic symptoms of nothing at all.
I have to wonder how many of those 18% absent in Iroquois were going through the same mental checklist as they called in sick. The sooner we push past this Swine Flu hysteria, the better we’ll all feel.
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