Flu cases ‘just skyrocketed’: Officials stress prevention as virus spreads throughout Wilson schools

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Last week, Rock Ridge Elementary School was hit hard by the influenza virus.

“We had one kindergarten class that had only eight students and 14 were absent because they were sick,” said Principal Jennifer Lewis. “Last week we peaked with 51 children out in one day. Last year it was more spread out over the whole flu season. I think it hit all at once this year.”

School nurse Ginger Phillips handles Rock Ridge Elementary School one day a week and also serves that role at Hunt High, Lee Woodard Elementary and Springfield Middle.

“Up until last week, we had seen some cases but not too many and then last week it was in all the schools it just skyrocketed,” Phillips said. “I’m constantly seeing kids from the time I get here until the time I go home.”

Children are coming in throwing up, with fever, lots of headaches and stomachaches, and some have rashes.

Phillips said the flu seems to be affecting younger children more than middle school and high school students.

“I think at Lee Woodard we had a second-grade class with eight kids out,” Phillips said.

“We have seen tons of kids already this morning,” Phillips said. “I have already sent home a few kids already today.”

By mid-morning, 10 children had come into the office to have their temperature checked.

“Any time we take the temperature of a child, if their temperature is 100 or greater it is our Wilson County Schools policy that the student has to go home,” Phillips said. “We do have a lot of kids who have a temperature of 99.5 and at that point I assess the kid, see how he is feeling and how he looks at that point, and if I think he is coming down with something I will ask that the parent will come and pick them up.”

If children have been sent home with the flu, they must stay home for however long their doctors say.

“They need to follow the doctor’s orders,” Lewis said.

Children have to be medication-free and fever-free for 24 hours before they can return to school.

“I think part of the problem is that sometimes parents don’t have anyone to stay at home with them and they need to work, so they turn to Tylenol and hope they make it through, which is getting everyone around them sick too,” Lewis said.

“We are constantly teaching the kids, when you cough or sneeze, do that in your elbow because the flu is spread by airborne as well,” Phillips said. “We are encouraging hand-washing all the time, alcohol-based hand sanitizing. We are also encouraging families that if they wake up with flu symptoms to keep the kid at home and not to send them to school.”

For those children still at school, the effort is to keep them free of the virus by cleaning the school constantly.

That started with the recommendation for children to keep washing their hands in an effort to be germ-free.

The classrooms are cleaned between classes.

“When students are out of the room, we have got our custodians going in and cleaning and the teachers are wiping down the desks every time. Students are wiping down their pencils because they carry a lot of germs as well. We have been sanitizing, disinfecting every afternoon when children leave because they are constantly coming up here,” Lewis said. “We Lysol the office. We are cleaning desks, tables, chairs, doorknobs, everything every afternoon. Anything the kids are touching with their hands, we’re on it.”

For classes that are affected by high absences, teachers slightly modify their lesson plans to accommodate by not starting anything new.

“They are spending their time working with students individually and seeing where they need extra help,” Lewis said. “They challenge them with extra fun-type assignments. They are working real hard on their math and reading skills to help them continue on versus teaching something new.”

Lewis said Rock Ridge has been fortunate to have just two teachers go home sick so far.

“That is really good, because all of my other schools, we have had a lot of staff members go home with it,” Phillips said.