Hammond School has closed its lower school for Wednesday and Thursday, hoping to slow the high rate of influenza among students and staff.
Headmaster Chris Angel said a high percentage of students in the lower school (pre-K through fourth grade) were absent Monday and Tuesday. He declined to provide that percentage, but it was high enough that infectious disease experts with S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control agreed it would be a good idea to shut down.
The incubation period for influenza is 48 hours, so a two-day closing can be sufficient to slow the spread. One key is for parents to make sure students with flu-like symptoms don’t return when the school re-opens on Friday.
The middle and upper schools at Hammond didn’t close because the absence rates weren’t as high, Angel said.
Public school districts in the Midlands contacted Wednesday reported that none of their schools have hit the absentee level that would require them to shut down. Most said absentee levels are typical for this time of year.
The flu season seems to be peaking earlier than normal in South Carolina. The level of patients with flu-like symptoms at primary care physician practices in the state spiked from about 3 percent to about 6 percent in the final week of November. The rate remained just above 6 percent last week, according to weekly statistics from DHEC.
By comparison, the flu-like symptoms rate in the relatively mild 2013-14 season spiked for only two weeks over 6 percent, and those were in late February.
The best way to avoid catching the flu or spreading it are to wash hands frequently and thoroughly, cover your mouth when you cough and – as Hammond is emphasizing – stay home if you’re sick.
Of course, those students healthy enough to do school work aren’t getting a free pass. Because of advances in technology – including iPads for all Hammond students – teachers have sent students assignments to complete at home during the two-day flu break, Angel said.