TASB Risk Management Fund

How to Navigate Flu Season During the Pandemic

December 06, 2021 Campbell Gill

student getting flu shot during covid-19

Remote learning, social distancing, hand washing, and other COVID-19 prevention basics helped drive flu cases to record lows during the 2020-21 school year. Now, staff and students are back in classrooms, pandemic restrictions have loosened, and health officials predict the flu will make a comeback.

It is possible to be infected with the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Your employees should know how to manage the risk of not just one, but two contagious viruses circulating through schools. Follow these tips to protect your staff, students, and community.

Seasonal illness, serious risk

Flu season typically lasts from late fall through early spring, peaking between December and February. Children are especially vulnerable, in part because their immune systems aren’t as prepared to fight the virus, but even healthy adults can get sick.

Most people who catch the flu recover in about one week. Some develop serious complications such as pneumonia, heart inflammation, and organ failure.

COVID-19 has been difficult enough to navigate the past 18 months. Controlling the spread of flu in your schools will help you avoid staffing shortages, closed campuses, and other difficult situations.

Watch for symptoms

Identifying whether an employee or student has COVID-19, the flu, or both can be difficult. The two viruses cause similar symptoms, including:

  • Runny nose
  • Sinus congestion
  • Body aches
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

Consider requiring anyone who shows symptoms to quarantine until they get tested. Quarantining unwell individuals is a safe practice; however, it could spell bad news for educational and work progress. School officials can control the risk of flu outbreaks by making or updating health plans, encouraging vaccinations, and promoting safe health and hygiene practices.

Plan ahead

Your campus or district emergency operations plan should include a public health and medical annex. An effective annex helps ensure a consistent, coordinated response that protects not only your schools but also your community from potentially contagious diseases and viruses.

Collaborate with local public health officials to ensure your plans reflect the community's public health strategies, which will likely include relevant and accurate vaccinations, infection control, and disease containment.

Promote reputable sources

Vaccinations prevent millions of illnesses and tens of thousands of hospitalizations every year. Annual flu vaccines can drastically decrease the chances of contracting the virus and suffering serious complications.

Vaccines and booster shots, especially for COVID-19, are hot-button issues, and there’s plenty of inaccurate information floating around. If employees have questions, point them to reputable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Department of State Health Services.

Some Fund members have made it convenient for staff and students to get vaccinated by directing them to local clinics or doctor’s offices. Longview ISD went a step further and worked with health officials to sponsor vaccination clinics at campuses or school facilities.

Stop the spread

Many best practices that help control COVID-19 are also effective against the flu:

  • Encourage staff and students to continue washing their hands frequently and avoiding close contact, especially indoors.
  • Remind everyone to stay home when they feel sick or when they experience flu-like symptoms.
  • Provide plenty of hand sanitizer.  A recent study by the University of Minnesota found that alcohol-based sanitizers recommended by the World Health Organization could destroy coronavirus and flu on human skin within 30 seconds.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces, including desks, doorknobs, and steering wheels.
  • Consult your school community, health officials, and school attorney before implementing mask requirements. Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s order prohibits mask mandates in schools, and the issue is playing out in courts. Read this TASB Legal Services memo for more information.
  • The CDC provides guidance on how social distancing, cleaning, and disinfecting can help slow the spread of the flu. Consider using the information to create checklists that help teachers, custodial, cafeteria, and athletics staff make sanitizing part of their daily routines.

It may seem like you’re assigning additional responsibility to employees who are already over-tasked. The few minutes these precautions take, however, can reduce lost days at work and in the classroom, as well as protect against illnesses that carry serious consequences.

Stay informed and proactively report

It is vital to communicate with local health authorities to stay informed about the flu situation in your area and provide experts with valuable updates about the health of your schools.

You are required to report cases of the flu, COVID-19, and other communicable diseases to your local health department, which then reports their data to the Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

The DSHS monitors the spread of diseases across the state. TEA’s website offers more information about tracking and reporting requirements.

Share flu statistics with your community so everyone is informed about public health trends and prepared to protect themselves and their families. You are an important part of this process, so use the many excellent state and federal resources available. This includes the DSHS and CDC websites, which offer advice and resources for flu prevention during the pandemic.

Help from the Fund during flu season, COVID-19, and beyond

Protecting public health is always a priority for schools. At the TASB Risk Management Fund, we’re committed to helping members prepare for infectious diseases, including COVID-19 and the flu.

Contact your risk solutions consultant to learn more about developing a comprehensive plan for navigating public health issues. To request a customizable public health and medical annex template for your Emergency Operations Plan, contact Emergency Management and School Security Consultant Melanie Moss at 512.505.2868.

Tagged: coronavirus, COVID-19, "disease prevention", "employee safety", "student safety"