Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Statement by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Acting CDC Director Dr. Richard Besser Regarding the Change in CDC's School and Childcare Closure

Statement by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and by Acting CDC Director
Dr. Richard Besser

Since the beginning of this outbreak, the CDC has been working to
update, or in some cases, quickly develop interim guidelines to help
healthcare providers, health departments and communities take effective
action to prevent the spread of this novel H1N1 virus. In doing so, we
acknowledged that our interim guidelines would be based on the data
available at the time, be guided by science, and designed so that
resources and efforts would be directed toward actions and activities
that would make a difference in preventing spread of this virus. If new
information or developments indicated a need to adjust our guidance, we
indicated we would do so.

Today, we are announcing a change with respect to CDC's interim guidance
on closing schools and childcare facilities. The initial guidance CDC
issued on May 1st recommended that affected communities with
laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza A H1N1 consider adopting school
dismissal and childcare closure measures, including closing for up to 14
days depending on the extent and severity of illness. At the onset of
this outbreak of a previously unknown influenza virus, we believed it
could be helpful to close affected schools while we learned more about
the virus's transmission and the severity of disease. Further, the U.S.
national strategy for pandemic influenza suggested that ongoing
community-wide closure of all schools and daycare centers should be
considered in the event of a severe outbreak, especially if these
measures could be implemented early.

As CDC's daily press briefings have illustrated, much has been learned
quickly about the virus's severity and its spread. We now believe that
the disease currently being caused by this novel flu virus is similar to
that typically caused by seasonal influenza. Although many people will
get sick and a small number, unfortunately, may become quite ill or even
die, the available data do not indicate that this virus is causing
unusually severe influenza at this time.

With the modified policy being issued today, CDC no longer recommends
that communities with a laboratory-confirmed case of influenza A H1N1
consider adopting school dismissal or childcare closure measures.
Rather, in line with policies being undertaken in Seattle, New York and
Canada, CDC has modified its policy to recommend implementation of
measures that focus on keeping all student, faculty and staff with
symptoms of influenza out of schools and childcare facilities during
their period of illness and recuperation, when they are potentially
infectious to others.

More specifically, at this time, CDC recommends the primary means to
reduce spread of influenza in schools focus on early identification of
ill students and staff, staying home when ill, and good cough and hand
hygiene etiquette. Students, faculty or staff with influenza-like
illness (fever with a cough or sore throat) should stay home and not
attend school or go into the community except to seek medical care for
at least 7 days even if symptoms resolve sooner. Students, faculty and
staff who appear to have an influenza-like illness at arrival or become
ill during the school day should be isolated promptly in a room separate
from other students and sent home.

It's important to note that schools that were closed based on previous
interim CDC guidance related to this outbreak may reopen. That said,
decisions about school closure are at the discretion of local
authorities based on local considerations, including public concern and
the impact of school absenteeism and staffing shortages.

We appreciate the efforts that communities, particularly school
districts, have taken to protect students and staff from this influenza
A H1N1 virus. Communities and schools are at the forefront of
protecting people's health, and we are committed to providing them the
flexibility they need to deal with local conditions, and the best
possible guidance that reflects our most current understanding of the
scientific and medical facts.

Finally, we should add that there are many individuals in our
communities -- the elderly, the very young, and individuals with
suppressed immune systems -- for whom influenza represents a potentially
lethal threat. The 2009 influenza A H1N1 virus is likely to circulate
widely in our communities; if not now then almost certainly in the fall.
We all have a special responsibility during this time to protect
ourselves and protect our neighbors and others in our community by
behaving responsibly and doing whatever we can to minimize the spread of
disease. A virus that may only cause sniffles and mild inconvenience in
one person may put the next into the hospital.

We have more information on the 2009 H1N1 virus today than we did only
one week ago, but much uncertainty remains. We should all be prepared
for a potentially rocky influenza season this fall. The Administration
and the CDC will continue to actively investigate this outbreak as it
unfolds and protect the health of the American public.

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