Fall River schools employee diagnosed with swine flu

Will Richmond

The city’s Department of Health and Human Services and School Department have confirmed a case of the swine flu has stricken a School Department employee.

Parents and guardians of students in the public school system were notified of the confirmed case of the H1N1 viral infection via the School Department’s Connect-ED system at about 8:30 p.m. Monday. A joint statement from the two departments was issued shortly after the call indicating the unidentified staff member had a mild case that is currently under treatment.

The statement goes on to say the person was not ill while in school and has not returned to school.

“We have been advised that there is a minimal risk of exposure. This person was not a traveler and (state Department of Public Health) has advised us that most cases presently being seen in the state are not travel-related,” the statement reads.

The DPH said 28 additional cases of the H1N1 virus have been confirmed in the state on Monday, bringing the total to 34 cases. Only one case was reported in Bristol County, identified as a 28-year-old. According to the DPH, the person who contracted the Bristol County case began experiencing symptoms on April 29 and the virus was confirmed Monday.

The statement indicates that based on the DPH’s new guidelines and the fact there was a minimal risk of exposure, no schools be closed. Instead city officials have been advised that enhanced surveillance and good health practices should be followed. DPH also informed city officials transmission from person to person is low when there has not been direct exposure to sneezing or coughing.

Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown said constant monitoring throughout the district will continue for the presence of the H1N1 virus, and if the problem increases city officials “will not hesitate to close schools.”

She expected attendance in schools may suffer today.

“It wouldn’t surprise me see the attendance rate down due to parent’s concerns,” she said. “But as we said in the message we sent out on the Connect-ED system parents can and should send their children to school. At the same time I honor the parent’s right to keep their children at home if they are at all worried.”

Mayo-Brown also advised that parents keep their children home if they exhibit flu-like symptoms and school nurses will also screen children and staff who appear ill upon arrival at school.

They will also be asked to contact the DPH if they notice increased absenteeism.

Mayo-Brown said the decision to not release where the staffer is employed was made in consultation with the DPH, which suggested that identifying the building or position the person worked in could result in the breach of medical confidentiality laws.

“For confidentiality reasons, we are not releasing any identification of the person, and if we were to release the person’s assignment it would lead to an identification,” Mayo-Brown said late Monday night. “We are respecting the DPH’s request to honor the confidentiality of the person.”

Mayo-Brown said that given the timing of the person’s onset of symptoms, Department of Health and Human Services Director Dr. Henry R. Vaillancourt said it was not necessary for extra sanitizing precautions at the staffers place of employment. She said custodians had previously been advised to make additional sanitizing efforts in all buildings, especially on surfaces such as door knobs and hand rails.

Mayo-Brown said student’s will be sent home with a letter today regarding the situation and said that as updates become available parents will be notified via the Connect-ED system. Updates will also be posted to the School Department’s Web site.

E-mail Will Richmond atwrichmond@heraldnews.com.