Flash: Berkeley School Classes Closed Because of Swine Flu; Malcolm X Students to Be Out for a Week

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Sunday May 03, 2009 - 03:29:00 PM

Berkeley has its first probable case of swine flu. A parent of two Malcolm X Elementary School students has been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, prompting the Berkeley Unified School District to dismiss classes at the school for a week, city officials announced Sunday.  

Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz has signed a proclamation of emergency, based on the probable case, which will be brought before the City Council for ratification Tuesday.  

Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, the city's public information officer, told the Daily Planet that the parent and the two children, who are suspected swine flu cases, have not been hospitalized and are recovering at home. None of them have traveled anywhere recently, she said.  

"They are all feeling better," she said. "The children have flu-like symptoms, but they are all mild cases. Everybody is getting better."  

City officials issued a press release about the case at 12:36 p.m. Sunday and held a press conference at 1 p.m. in the Cyprus Room at City Hall, where acting Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman announced the one probable and two suspected swine flu cases. She was joined by Kamlarz and Berkeley Unified Superintendent Bill Huyett.  

The California Department of Public Health informed the Berkeley Public Health Division of a probable case of H1N1 influenza in Berkeley on Saturday, Clunies-Ross said. The patient's children had flu symptoms and are suspected of having H1N1 because of "close household contact," the city's press release said. Both the Center for Disease Control and the state Department of Public Health recommend the dismissal of classes at schools to reduce the spread of infection. 

Classes at Malcolm X will be dismissed for at least seven days, in accordance with state and federal guidelines, and the situation will be reviewed at that time. Health and school officials are encouraging parents to consider alternative child care for up to 14 days if the situation does not improve.  

"We know that dismissing schools is disruptive, and we do not take this decision lightly," said Dr. Janet Berreman in a statement. "But considering how quickly the flu can spread in a school environment, we think this is one of the most important steps we can take to reduce this flu's presence in the student and overall community. These actions are consistent with actions of neighboring health departments and school districts."  

Clunies-Ross told the Daily Planet that at this point the school district was dismissing classes at Malcom X, not closing the school down.  

"Faculty and staff can still go to the school, but all classes and student activities have been canceled," she said. "Everybody is getting directions from the school district."  

Berkeley Unified spokesperson Mark Coplan said Superintendent Huyett had sent out an automated telephone message to everyone in the district informing the community about the case and providing instructions for what to do next. Malcom X Principal Cheryl Chin will send a similar phone message to her school community, Coplan said.  

"These are precautionary times," Superintendent Huyett told the Planet. "We are cooperating with the city's health department. It's important for us to know how the children with the flu symptoms are doing. We know it's not a serious flu symptom or illness. We want everyone to know that classes and after-school programs are being dismissed at Malcom X only and will reopen again on May 11."  

Information for Malcolm X  

All classes and after-school activities at Malcolm X are dismissed. Staff who are well can continue to work and are encouraged to contact the district for further information. The Public Health division will be working with the school district to distribute information and answer questions for families and staff.  

Information for other schools and programs  

No other schools are affected by this dismissal. Healthy students and staff should plan to attend their regular school and after-school activities.  

Persons who are sick (including students, faculty and staff) with fever and flu-like symptoms should stay home from work and school.  

Residents are urged to use common-sense methods to reduce the chance of getting or spreading the flu.  

"The best way to protect yourself and your family is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, always cover your coughs and sneezes, and stay home if you are sick," said Dr. Berreman. "Fortunately, the H1N1 has been a mild virus to date. Our actions are cautious and aimed at reducing the spread of the disease. This is a time to prepare, not to panic."  

Tips for advance planning 

• Be sure to have enough medicine, food and water on hand if you or a family member are ill and need to stay at home for an extended period.  

• Reduce trips outside the house by combining errands. 

• Find childcare alternatives in case your child's school is dismissed. 

For background on the H1N1 flu, including a description of symptoms, links to state and federal agencies, and prevention tips, see www.CityofBerkeley.info/publichealth or www.cdc.gov