Greenbrier County Schools announced they were closing Eastern Greenbrier Middle School on Monday, Nov. 14, due to flu, the most recent school to be closed due to the virus.
Greenbrier County School Superintendent Jeff Bryant said, “This year, as soon as we saw numbers rising in the county of student and teacher absences, I started monitoring them on a daily basis. If the numbers rise over a three-day period, we are ready to close the school to interrupt the transmission of the virus.”
He said that it is primarily the teacher absence that pushes the school closure, because adequate staffing is required for student supervision and activities.
Bryant said the limited number of substitute teachers in the county is behind most of the school closures. It is a staffing shortage that makes closing the school necessary.
He said, “The last thing that we want to do is close a school, but we have had some children get very, very sick this year.”
The head nurse for Greenbrier County Schools, Paula McCoy said, “The regional epidemiologist suggests the students being sent home, for possibly elderly family caregivers to be called on to provide since parents are working, is not a good scenario.”
McCoy said that closing schools is an old-time way to deal with contagious disease. “Even in the 1950s, there were school closures due to flu contagion.”
She also said modern technology is there for us as well as these old-time practices.
“We have the electrostatic sprayers in the schools that were purchased to combat COVID and these are available and used by the custodial staff. Each school has in its possession one of these units and I have recommended them to be used.”
So far, the process of multiple day closures has been successful at lowering the numbers of absences due to illness. Just getting the teachers and students away from each other for a few days has worked to curb the increasing infection numbers.
Three-day closures have been used primarily; sometimes a Friday or Monday added to the weekend is enough. Lewisburg Elementary was an exception since their recent period of infection and school closure took place during a week with two holidays (Election Day and Veteran’s Day) so with the weekend they got a lengthy break of six days while only missing two potential classroom days.
In addition to Lewisburg Elementary and Eastern Greenbrier Middle School, schools closed for flu and flu-like symptoms in Greenbrier County so far have been Rupert Elementary Oct. 28, Crichton Elementary Nov. 3 and 4 and Ronceverte Elementary Nov 4-7. This was the second time this school year for EGMS to be closed for flu and flu-like symptoms.
According to Dr. Bridgett Morrison, health officer of the Greenbrier County Health Department, one child in West Virginia was recorded as dying of the flu on Nov. 10. Morrison said, “Currently we are seeing a significant amount of illness from flu, strep, RSV and continued COVID cases.”
RSV is contagious to adults. Often described as an infant or childhood illness, it is transmitted by contact to adults and can be very dangerous for elderly caregivers or immune suppressed family members. Respiratory Syncytial Virus targets the respiratory system and can develop bronchitis and pneumonia issues. It is considered life threatening for infants and immune compromised or respiratory compromised adults including grandparents.
Morrison stressed that, “Vaccinations are the key to overcoming flu virus. Even if you catch it, you will have a lesser illness from it.” She also said the area health centers and clinics are better trained at dealing with contagious illness since the COVID-19 pandemic, and this is helping prevent the spread of the virus in the community.
Vaccinations for flu are available for children over six months old at half dose, given two times, to result in a full vaccine for the child.