Local schools see more absences as flu virus spreads

Evans High School receives thorough clean after several students marked absent in the midst of the flu epidemic.

EVANS, Ga. (WJBF) – The fact that we have widespread flu activity makes it big this year. And schools are not exempt.  NewsChannel 6 checked in with our local districts to see if the flu impacted learning by keeping students home.  We also looked into when parents should make the call to keep their kids out of class.

We found one student.

“I had a really running nose, a bad cough and my head was hurting,” said Kate Foral.

She achieved the highest SAT score at Evans High School and still decided it was OK to miss a day.

She told us, “It was kind of hard because I do have a lot of make-up work now, but I do feel that in the long run it was probably worth it.”

Foral, who will be recognized at the STAR student awards banquet next week, does not have the flu. But she is one of several students staying home from school to make sure others do not get sick.

Evans High School Principal Michael Johnson said he believes some students are actually fighting the virus.

“Our attendance rate is a little down,” he said. “We’re around 86 percent attendance rate, which is really good above the state average.”

He told NewsChannel 6 he started the flu season conversation at Evans High School back in October. And now that the virus is widespread across the U.S., he’s stressing that message again, instructing custodians to do a deep clean, cautioning students against frequent handshakes with each other and warning parents to keep their kids home if they are ill.

“We ask them to stay home until their fever breaks,” Principal Johnson said.

Columbia County’s system-wide fever policy requires students have a fever of less than 100 degrees for 24 hours prior to returning to school. Other tips Johnson said he shared online with the community are:

  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
  • Cover your cough or sneeze
  • Wash hands
  • Avoid contact with sick people
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • and get the flu shot

The flu shot is something all students were offered earlier in the year for free according to Director of School Health, Lisa Whitlock.

“The flu can with fever, with chills, with a cough, with vomiting,” she said. “There are a lot of symptoms that look like the flu and if you are questioning if it is the flu or not please keep them home.”

Students at Evans High School stay stocked up on hand sanitizer and a select few even put on a mask. But the message district wide is resounding; if you’re sick stay home.

Whitlock added, “Our average sent home rate for our elementary schools is about five percent of the kids who we see in the clinic. But that could be for a lot of different things. They could be in there for the flu or they could be in there for an infection.”

At this point no school is being closed due to illness. Columbia County is not the only district with an increase in the number of students out of school. In Burke County, about 450 of the 4191 students enrolled district-wide have called out.

Numbers of absent students are:

January 16th  – 453
January 17th – 725 *It was snowing this day
January 18th – 480
January 19th – 452
January 22nd – 435
January 23rd – 473
January 24th – 477

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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