- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Area schools closed indefinitely over suspected swine flu cases will reopen Wednesday after federal health officials said it was no longer necessary to cancel classes because of the outbreak.

The decision - which reverses closings at six schools in Maryland, one in the District and more than 700 schools nationwide - came the same day health officials in Texas reported the first death of a U.S. resident from swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus.

Officials said the woman, who had other chronic health problems, was in her early 30s and died earlier this week. She lived in Cameron County, along the U.S.-Mexico border.

News of the woman’s death came after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said schools no longer have to close if they report a suspected case of the H1N1 virus and that parents should instead keep children at home for at least a week if they become ill.

“The overall conclusion is to keep affected students home for seven days. If your child is sick please do not send your child to school,” Mrs. Sebelius said during an afternoon briefing at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The CDC recommended Friday that schools close for at least 14 days if a student is diagnosed with a probable case of swine flu.

“The change in the school-closing guidance reflects our understanding in what we know of transmission and severity,” said Dr. Richard Besser, acting CDC director.

After the initial guidelines were issued Friday, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley ordered the closing of all schools that had reported a probable case of swine flu: Folger McKinsey Elementary in Anne Arundel County; Millford Mill Academy in Baltimore County; Rockville High School in Montgomery County; and Montpelier, Vansville and University Park elementary schools in Prince George’s County.

In the District, classes at the Our Lady of Victory School in Northwest were canceled Tuesday after health officials said a staffer who lives in Maryland exhibited flulike symptoms.

CDC officials have confirmed four cases of swine flu in Maryland, including a student at Millford Mill Academy and a preschooler in Anne Arundel County.

Dr. Besser said there were 403 confirmed cases of swine flu nationwide, with an additional 700 probable cases in 44 states and the District. Last week, the CDC confirmed that a Mexican toddler had died while visiting his relatives in Texas.

Maryland health officials said Tuesday that the new guidelines do not necessarily mean that the number of flu cases will decrease across the state.

“I think its fair to say we are not done with the flu,” said John M. Colmers, state secretary of health and mental hygiene. “What we do know is it is less virulent at this point than we first feared.”

Maryland school officials were elated to hear they could reopen their doors Wednesday.

“We felt very strongly to restart the education process, so we’re very pleased and looking forward to having the students come back to school on Wednesday,” said Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Steve Simon.

In Prince George’s County, interim Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said reopening the schools was “great news for parents and students.”

“We understand the strain that families have been under with the uncertainty of when schools would reopen. Working with parents we can help students stay healthy and schools stay open,” he said.

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