- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 5, 2009

SANTA FE SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) | California school districts will receive 23 million masks and pairs of gloves to help curb the spread of swine flu, the state schools chief announced Friday.

“We want to keep students, teachers and staff healthy and in school,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said in a statement.

Details of the program were being released at a Los Angeles County warehouse in Santa Fe Springs packed with boxes of disposable gloves and masks.

The items, paid for by federal grants, will be shipped free to 58 county offices of education and to the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest district.

They are intended for roughly 10,000 public schools with about 6.3 million students in more than 1,000 districts, said Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Education.

Shipping of the supplies began late last month, she said.

Federal guidelines recommend that students with H1N1 symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat be sent to a separate office or sick room until they can leave campus.

But it can take several hours before parents can pick up their children, Miss McLean said.

In the meantime, the student will be asked to wear a surgical mask, while the school nurse or other staffer will wear a different type of mask and gloves, Miss McLean said.

There have been at least 7,200 cases of swine flu reported in California this year, 366 of them fatal, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Although some counties have reported drops in the number of new swine flu cases, indicating the pandemic may have peaked locally, Miss McLean said schools can always store the masks and gloves for any outbreak of flu.

“Next year, we’re sure to have another flu season,” she said.

Overall, federal health officials said Friday that swine flu infections are continuing to wane, just as vaccine is becoming plentiful enough that some communities are allowing everyone to get it, not just those in priority groups.

Swine flu was widespread in only 25 states last week - mostly in the Northeast and Southwest, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

In late October, 48 states were reporting widespread cases of swine flu. Since then, there’s been a decline across the country, and it appears that a fall wave of swine flu infections has peaked.

Meanwhile, a shortage of swine flu vaccine is easing, with 73 million doses now available, roughly twice as much as a month ago. An additional 10 million doses are expected in the next week, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC’s director.

Initially, limited supplies prompted the CDC to advise state and local health officials to reserve doses for those with the highest risk for severe complications from swine flu or for those who take care of them. That group includes pregnant women, children and young adults, health care workers and people with asthma and certain other health problems.

Demand for the vaccine is still high in many places, but enough has become available that some communities are now giving it to people outside the priority groups, Dr. Frieden said.

“The number of communities that do that will increase in the coming weeks,” he predicted at a press conference in Atlanta.

At least three states - Alaska, Arkansas and Oklahoma - have begun offering swine flu vaccine to all comers. And some communities have opened vaccinations up, including Broward County, Fla., and Sacramento County, Calif., said Paula Steib, spokeswoman for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Since it was first identified in April, swine flu has sickened an estimated 22 million Americans and killed 4,000.

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