Although county health officials do not plan to meet with local school districts until the end of the month to discuss swine flu guidelines, the government on Friday released a list of new steps to deal with the outbreak that has already killed more than 50 in California.
Among the new guidelines is a nationwide plan to vaccinate children and pregnant women against swine flu, also known as H1N1. But some are against the new immunizations.
Seasonal flu shots offered annually to ward off the common bug are said to have no effect on swine flu. Instead, the public will be asked to receive an additional two to three shots this fall to be protected.
Meanwhile, local schools are gearing up and waiting for direction from the appropriate local county health services department.
Although the federal guidelines were released to coincide with the first day of school, local classes have already begun. Lodi Unified School District custodians have continued their regular cleaning, and school nurses are conducting the same hand-washing campaign undertaken this time every year.
At Washington Elementary, it's business as usual for school nurse Emily Barrington. She is among the contingent that teaches the district's pre-schoolers how to wash their hands correctly.
"We catch them young," she said, adding that part of the ongoing education is teaching students of all ages how to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. "They're very much aware of that."
Even before the swine flu scare, local school nurses put reminders on large campus bulletin boards on how to prevent the seasonal virus, and many teachers have made waterless antibacterial gel available.
When Galt elementary schools open in a couple of weeks, Superintendent Karen Schauer said employees will continue cleaning practices that involve on-going attention to areas that are frequently touched by students and staff, like classroom doors, cafeteria tables, bathroom areas and hand rails.
Her office, however, has not received additional guidance from Sacramento County health experts regarding the revised flu guidelines.
"My review of the revised guidelines shows recommended school responses aligning with our current practices. For example, students or staff staying home when sick, washing hands, and covering noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing with tissues," Schauer said.
Swine flu: By the numbers10,243 people worldwide have been infected
43,771 cases nationwide since last year
6,506 swine flu-related hospitalizations
436 deaths across the country
52 were in California
5 in Sacramento County
0 in San Joaquin County
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Guidelines to guard against germs1. Wash with soap and water
- Use warm water.
- Wash for 15 to 20 seconds.
2. Though not as effective, use alcohol-based gel hand cleaner
- Don't add water.
- Rub the gel on your hands until dry.
Last spring, she penned a letter home to parents outlining the district's goal to keep as many students as possible in school during an outbreak. There were no local cases.
Although the recent federal focus has been on schools, most of the 43,771 nationwide cases have been reported in hospitals and in long-term care, correctional and other congregate living settings. Most have been mild, and most people recover without medical treatment. However, hospitalizations in this county have increased in recent weeks, according to the health department.
It has had 13 cases that required hospitalization, and no deaths, as of July 30. There were 10 hospitalizations reported just 22 days earlier.
Meanwhile, the five vaccine manufacturers that supply the United States are finishing up production of seasonal flu vaccine earlier than usual.
Health officials say they expect about half of the more than 120 million doses of seasonal vaccine to be available by the end of this month. Most of the rest are due out by the end of September.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an advisory committee to CDC, has recommended that the swine flu vaccine be made available first to pregnant women, health care workers and emergency medical responders, people caring for infants under 6 months of age, children and young adults from 6 months to 24 years, and those aged 25 to 64 years with underlying medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes.
Those could be provided at school-wide clinics, and districts should be preparing for the possibility of mass vaccinations, according to the CDC.
In a speech Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that seems logical. "We're seeing schools as potential partners," she said.
Vaccines are anticipated to be available to the general public by mid-October, federal health officials announced Friday.
But they feel it is possible, even probable, that epidemics may begin in different parts of the country before then, thus making prevention through hand-washing and other steps even more critical.
What causes concern for many proactive parents is talk on the part of government officials that these vaccines will be mandatory. This is obvious by the number of Web sites against such immunizations and their possible adverse health effects.
One of those, the Holistic Moms Network, called the practice "quite frightening," as this vaccine is somewhat experimental and has not been administered for more than 30 years.
Stacy Lister is leery of the latest recommended shots for her three children. Although they all have been vaccinated with the typical immunizations and boosters, the Lodi mother spaces out their administration.
"I'm not totally opposed to them, but why not err on the side of caution?" she said. "It's just too hard on their little bodies, but the doctors make you feel like you're the awful parent if you don't get them."
As for the proposed swine flu vaccination, Lister points toward the 1970s, when some people reportedly died or became crippled after being administered a similar shot.
"Obviously, it hasn't been tested," she said of the new vaccine. "I don't want my kids to be the guinea pigs. I'd rather keep them inside all winter."
Though a self-proclaimed believer in vaccines, Christy Richesin, of Lodi, knows there are risks involved with inoculating her children. One has an egg allergy, and many vaccines are made with eggs.
"However, the flu could also be deadly due to his breathing issues, so it's complicated for us," she said.
There is no official word whether vaccines will be administered in local schools.
When it comes to preventing the swine flu, administrators aren't starting from scratch this fall. Since the outbreak occurred last spring, schools have been on alert, receiving regular CDC updates and guidelines.
To identify outbreaks sooner and track school closures this year, the U.S. Department of Education and CDC have established a school dismissal monitoring system to report swine flu cases online.
And although no local schools were shuttered during last spring's outbreak, the government on Friday deemed the practice unneccesary in the coming school year for typical public campuses.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.