How To Navigate Flu Season During the Pandemic
Flu season typically lasts from late fall through early spring, peaking between December and February. It is possible to be infected with the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Follow these tips to manage the risk of both viruses this school year.
Seasonal illness, serious risk
Children are especially vulnerable to the flu because:
- Their immune systems aren’t as prepared to fight the virus.
- They are less likely to be vaccinated.
- They often play and interact closely with other students.
Still, even healthy adults can get sick. Most people who catch the flu recover in about a week. Some develop serious complications such as pneumonia, heart or brain inflammation, and organ failure. It's impossible to predict who will get seriously ill.
COVID-19 has been difficult enough to navigate. 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
Consider requiring anyone who shows symptoms to quarantine until they get tested. Quarantining unwell individuals is a safe practice; however, it could slow down education 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.
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.
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 avoid 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.
- Use this CDC guidance to promote healthy habits that slow the spread of flu and COVID-19.
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 state and federal resources available to you. This includes the DSHS and CDC websites, which offer advice and resources for flu prevention during the pandemic.
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