Parachute school hit hard by the flu |

Parachute school hit hard by the flu

Greg Masse
Post Independent Staff

More than 30 percent of the students at L.W. St. John Middle School in Parachute missed school this week because they were sick with influenza. But the school remained open.

It will be closed for Thanksgiving break from today through Sunday. The break, school administrators hope, will give the students and faculty some rest and, more importantly, less contact with infected students.

“We had quite a few kids gone, especially these last two days,” middle school principal Daniel Hoey said, referring to Monday and Tuesday. “I’d say it’s been building since the second full week in November.”

Other schools in Parachute and Battlement Mesa have been affected by the virus, but not as dramatically as the middle school.

“We had close to 1⁄3 of our kids out,” Hoey said.

School District 16 Superintendent Steve McKee said he came close to closing the school on Monday and Tuesday, but decided that since it was a short week, he should keep the doors open.

“I’ve been monitoring the situation, and it seems to be growing,” McKee said of the outbreak. “It wasn’t until Monday that there was such a large number” of kids absent.

“On the other hand, if it continues to get worse, we’ll go back and re-evaluate the situation.”

The district builds two extra days of school into the calendar in case of a snowstorm, a broken heater, a flu outbreak or some other unforeseen situation.

“It’s possible we could call off a couple of days later,” McKee said.

Officials at the Re-1 and Re-2 school districts said while there have been some influenza-related absences, the problem isn’t on the level of that at L.W. St. John Middle School.

The worst-hit schools in Re-1 were Basalt Elementary School ” which had a peak of 57 out of 510 students absent because of the flu ” and Basalt Middle School.

Garfield County Public Health Nurse Laurel Little said the flu is hitting the Western Slope earlier than usual this year.

Statewide, there were 1,954 confirmed cases of influenza during the week ending Nov. 22. Since Sept. 28, there have been a total of 2,648 confirmed flu cases.

“We’re seeing a lot of flu,” she said. “One of the viruses has done a shift, so it could be that people aren’t as protected.”

The shift Little referred to is a mutation of the virus that makes flu shots less effective. But even with the new strain, Little still recommends that people a shot.

“It’s not too late,” she said. “They can get a shot either at their doctor’s or at either of the Garfield County Public Health Nurse offices.”

Other ways to avoid catching or transmitting the flu are to aggressively wash your hands with soap and cover your hands when you cough.

Symptoms of the flu include fever, headache, overall body aches, respiratory problems such as chest congestion and a cough, Little said.

For more information, call the Garfield County Public Health Nurse at 945-6614 or 625-5200.

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

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