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Be Ready for Flu Outbreak, State Official Tells Schools

State Supt. Jack O'Connell unveils a checklist to help schools plan for a possible pandemic. L.A. Unified is already making preparations.

September 14, 2006|Rong-Gong Lin II | Times Staff Writer

State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell on Wednesday urged schools across California to work closely with local health officials to prepare for a potential pandemic flu.

O'Connell unveiled a new checklist advising schools how to plan for a pandemic. Tips include supplying each room with soap, water and paper towels or hand sanitizer and establishing a backup chain of command in case employees fall ill.

Preschools and child-care centers should regularly sanitize toys and furniture, according to the tip sheet. In the event of a pandemic, it also advises creating a "sick room" for ill children as they wait for their parents to pick them up.

"Be sure you develop plans so that you can keep our students and our staff as safe as possible," O'Connell said at a news conference at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles.

Schools play a major role in epidemics, as schoolchildren readily spread infectious diseases and bring them home to their families, said Dr. Howard Backer, director of immunization for the California Department of Health Services.

Although schools may operate in a moderate pandemic, they could be shut down for weeks or months in the event of a more serious influenza outbreak.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is training staff and developing brochures and DVDs about pandemic flu, along with common-sense tips such as washing hands regularly, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and staying at home when sick. The district is also allowing schools to order waterless hand sanitizers for their emergency supply kits.

L.A. Unified Supt. Roy Romer said the district is also trying to find ways to continue teaching during a pandemic, potentially through lessons on television or online.

Three flu pandemics have occurred in the last 100 years, in 1918, 1957 and 1968. Another could come any time, experts said. No one knows whether the avian flu virus that has killed millions of birds, mostly in Asia, and more than 100 people will mutate into a strain that would spread easily among humans.

But U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt has been prodding state and county health agencies to make immediate preparations.

ron.lin@latimes.com

For more information about flu prevention, check the state's website: www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/hn/fluinfo.asp.

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