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Flu closes Cleveland County schools

by Suzi Parker | December 8, 2022 at 2:53 a.m.
Sabrina Mallett, a licensed practical nurse for UAMS, prepares to administer a flu shot Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020 during a drive-thru covid-19 testing at the Lonoke Community Center. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

The Cleveland County School District is closing for two days because of increasing influenza cases.

In a letter to parents Wednesday, District Superintendent Craig Dupuy wrote: "Over the past few days we have seen a significant spike in the number of positive flu cases here in the Cleveland County School District.

"We have come to a point that a decision has to be made to either continue our school day activities with major disruptions due to absenteeism or close school and utilize AMI Days approved for our district in order to sanitize and break the spread of the virus."

AMI stands for alternative methods of instruction, like attending class online. Cleveland County School District students will work with student packets or in Google classrooms.

Dupuy said with more teachers missing school, it "becomes increasingly hard to supervise students both in and out of the classroom" and this often "leads to student misbehavior and student actions not usually displayed in the classroom setting."

Arkansas is reporting "very high," or 12 out of 13, for influenza-like-illness (ILI) activity level, according to the Arkansas Department of Health flu report released Wednesday for the week ending Dec. 3.

The average school absenteeism rate last week was 7.5 percent among public schools.

"Schools are not required to consult with ADH or inform us when they decide to close due to illness, so we do not have definitive data on school closures," Danyelle McNeill, ADH public information officer, said. "We did hear of a few districts that closed for flu in November. However, according to our weekly flu report, absentee rates for the state's public schools as a whole actually decreased this week compared to the week prior to Thanksgiving break, possibly because kids weren't in school during the break, which could have helped reduce spread at school during the break."

Arkansas has already reported 45 flu-related deaths this flu season, including one pediatric death. That's 15 more deaths than last week. Of these, 73% are not vaccinated.

Last year, 30 people in Arkansas died during flu season. The number of deaths nationally from flu this season is 4,500, with 78,000 hospitalizations.

Sixteen Arkansas nursing homes and other institutions have reported flu outbreaks this year.

ADH said that not all flu cases are reported because not everyone who has the flu visits a doctor. ADH also only required reports of hospitalizations, deaths and outbreaks.

For the last two years, flu cases have been lower while the covid-19 pandemic raged on.

Medical experts say that's because people stayed indoors and practiced social distancing because of the pandemic. Mask wearing was also more prevalent. Now that most people are back to pre-pandemic life, viruses are taking off, including respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, a disease commonly seen in children.

Covid, though, has not gone away.

ADH reported Tuesday 1,512 new covid cases and 37 covid deaths in Arkansas since last week. ADH also reported 25 people currently hospitalized with covid.

Even with the school closure in Cleveland County, Dupuy said boys and girls basketball games will be played this week.

Healthy teachers and staff, he wrote in his letter to parents, should report to the school on Thursday and Friday to sanitize their rooms and help custodial staff disinfect hallways and restrooms. On Friday, all buildings will close until Monday.

Print Headline: Flu closes Cleveland County schools

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