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Area schools starting to see fewer sick kids

Area school officials are optimistic that the peak of student absences due to illness is nearing, if not already passed.

Park Rapids district nurse Marianne Gilbertson said a week ago there were a lot of absences and she thought things had peaked.

"But with this virus, we just can't tell," she said.

By mid-week, there were again a number of absences, although Gilbertson said she didn't have exact numbers.

The week before, Park Rapids Schools met the flu outbreak criteria because more than 5 percent of the overall student population was exhibiting influenza symptoms.

Gilbertson said she is seeing more students sick in the elementary than high school.

"Hopefully we're reaching the peak," Gilbertson said.

Park Rapids transportation supervisor Cindy Leach said there were a lot of calls Wednesday morning from parents saying their kids were sick and didn't need to be picked up for school.

"It's like this every year at times," Leach said.

Some mornings can get hectic with bus drivers having to change routes depending on student absences. She appreciates getting calls early to tell bus drivers to modify their route.

"It saves miles and dollars if (bus drivers) don't have to go down some of those roads," Leach said.

In Nevis, Superintendent Steve Rassier said that after last week, with nearly 20 percent of the student body absent due to illness, it is looking better.

"It seems that we're over the peak," he said. "We've still got sick kids but we seem to be over the worst."

This week, however, several teachers have been sick in Nevis, Rassier said.

No major outbreaks have been reported in Menahga School.

Minnesota Department of Health officials recommend people who are sick stay home until 24 hours after the fever has broken without fever-reducing medication. Frequent hand washing is also recommended.

Law enforcement agencies have also been dealing with sick employees.

Last week it was impossible to staff all the shifts on the Park Rapids Police Department.

Chief Terry Eilers spent the week in bed, in no condition to grapple with man power shortages.

"I don't know what I had, but it wasn't good," the chief said last Friday when he returned to work, pale and weak.

Eliers said most of his squad also came down with various viral ailments, leaving some shifts with a single officer on patrol, if he was lucky.

"They get into the squad cars and breathe on each other and swap germs," he said. Although traditionally officers patrol alone, they frequently get into each other's cars to exchange shift information.

Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer told the county board Wednesday he will be developing a policy specifically geared to H1N1.

He praised community health workers for informing the public about the rapidly changing flu information and availability of vaccines.

"We don't want mayhem throughout the county," he said.

But county commissioner Dick Devine was highly critical of the federal government's handling of the pandemic.

"Our whole plan was based on distribution of the vaccinations," he said. "Leave it to the government to leave us without vaccines."

Board members pointed out it was not the government that was developing the vaccines, it was private drug makers battling the time it takes to incubate the vaccines in eggs.

That didn't mollify Devine.

"There's no vaccines, no material" for either the H1N1 or seasonal flu viruses, he complained.

In a moment of humor, commissioner Cal Johannsen predicted massive absences from both work and school next week.

"People are gonna come down with H1N1 during deer season," he joked.