Students and teachers infected with the dangerous and unpredictable H1N1 virus should immediately be isolated and given a mask, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday.
The guideline is part of a larger, comprehensive plan issued by the federal government for public and private schools (kindergarten through 12th grade) preparing to reopen in the fall, and it revises an earlier directive to shutter classrooms in an outbreak, which left working parents in a child-care quandary during last spring’s panic.
Mrs. Napolitano said the decision to close schools in the event of increased infection rates should be made at the local level.
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Last spring, roughly 700 schools in about 25 states closed after the virus — first known as “swine flu” — emerged in Mexico, then spread around the world.
The closings sent parents in a scramble to find day care or operating schools for healthy children. This shortage of classrooms prompted the new plan’s call for educators to prepare for home-schooling through the telephone and the Internet.
“Whether it’s for just a few students or an entire school, we must make prevention our collective business,” said Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan, who joined Mrs. Napolitano and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in Washington, D.C., in announcing the guidelines.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also worked on the guidelines, reports 353 deaths from the virus, which — unlike seasonal flu — seems to easily infect young people.
“The virus affects young and healthy individuals,” Mr. Duncan also said. “We must pay attention to the health and safety of our children first.”
Roughly 55 million students and 7 million staffers each day attend more than 130,000 public and private schools in the U.S., according to the federal government.
The guidelines issued Friday still include fastidious hand-washing, coughing into shirt sleeves, staying home when sick and getting a vaccination.
Officials encouraged parents to get their children seasonal-flu vaccine shots within the coming weeks — in addition to the H1N1 vaccines that should be available by mid-October.
Parents with children who have asthma or diabetes and develop a fever or cough should immediately contact a health-care provider.
Students and teachers who arrive at school sick should be taken to a clean room and given protective gear such as a mask, then sent home, officials said.
Officials said plans for pre-K students would be released “shortly” and those for colleges and businesses would be available Aug. 23.
“While parents are out getting notebooks and backpacks, we want you to know we’re preparing for the H1N1 virus,” Mrs. Sebelius said.