On Wednesday, May 6, the administration placed a sign near the second-floor bridge entrance advising students to take certain hygienic precautions. The sign, made by the Department of Education (DOE), instructs students not to come to school if they are feeling ill, to cover their mouths and noses when they sneeze or cough, to wash their hands after touching dirty surfaces and to report to the nurse if they feel ill.
The DOE posted a letter reminding parents to keep their children at home if they are not feeling well.
The DOE also sent emails to parents advising them not to send their children to school if they have a high fever. Additionally, all of the school nurses in New York City received a packet from the DOE about the details and symptoms of the swine flu, what precautions to take and hygiene tips.
Swine flu was first detected in April 2009. As with regular seasonal influenza viruses, people catch swine from the respiratory secretions of sick individuals. Droplets from coughs or sneezes can also easily contaminate hand rails, doorknobs and the surfaces of desks.
Mild symptoms include a high fever, runny or stuffy nose, a cough, sore throat, body aches, chills and fatigue. Serious symptoms include pneumonia and respiratory failure.
There are a few confirmed cases of swine flu in the school. “Although we have a small number of cases, we’ve been sending students home on a regular basis if they do not feel well,” Principal Stanley Teitel said.
Since Stuyvesant has not had clusters of swine flu cases, it has not been closed. Schools that have closed are IS 318 in Brooklyn and JHS 74, PS 107 and Saint Francis Preparatory High School in Queens. Only chancellor Joel Klein has the power to close public schools. Private and parochial schools like Saint Francis Prep are closed at their own administration’s discretion.
However, many students have been absent in recent weeks and the administration must report the number of absences each day to the Chancellor’s office. If students are sickened by swine flu, they can be excused without a doctor’s note.
“If they have a fever and they have a sore throat, if the fever is over 100, we have to ask the parents to come pick them up instead of going back to class. So anyone who comes here and they have a fever and a sore throat and are coughing or they have nasal congestion, I don’t want them to go back to class,” Brefo said.
Common precautions can help halt virus.
“It’s very important that the students wash their hands. You have to make sure you don’t touch your nose and face unnecessarily. You have to wash your hands very well, and no sharing of eating utensils,” Brefo said.
“Limit the spread through droplet infection, which is essentially things coming out of your mouth,” biology teacher Jerry Citron said. “You can’t get it from eating, you can’t get it from injecting yourself with it. You get it via the air through droplets.”
“The fact that it’s moving so quickly in this country and around the world is sort of concerning to me because if it does mutate, in a more virulent form, it means it can be much more dangerous to healthy people. But right now I think that the danger of this flu is to people who are slightly immunologically compromised,” Citron said.
Students have many opinions about the swine flu outbreak, as well as what the school should do about it.
“I wasn’t really panicked. I didn’t think it would be that big a deal. But because of where I live, which is closed to Saint Francis Prep, there are people who live near me that attend that school. So that kind of gave me a reason to panic,” senior Rachel Kim said.
“The school should explain what’s different about the swine flu, because not a lot of people know about it,” sophomore Sage O’Neil said.
The most important thing for students “is to educate others,” Brefo said. ”If you see someone not washing their hands appropriately, kissing in the hallways, or drinking from the same cup or bottle, you have to say, ‘Hey! You’ve got to stop that!’” Brefo said.