Swine flu masks in class? Not a chance, officials say.
TAMPA -- The headlines certainly sounded scary. Students with swine flu will be wearing surgical masks! In school!
But Hillsborough County school officials said all the media excitement over Monday's arrival of 20,000 surgical masks was short on facts and long on hype.
For the record, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said, students with flu symptoms won't be walking around school or attending class wearing masks.
According to long-standing policies, as well as plans laid out last spring when the H1N1 outbreak reached Tampa Bay, students who come to school with a fever and coughs, sniffles, aches, or other symptoms will be removed from class and sent home.
"Any student who comes to the office with flu symptoms will be isolated, most likely in the clinic," she said.
The county is expecting to receive an H1N1 vaccine in mid-October, but no children will be vaccinated at school without their parents' consent, said superintendent MaryEllen Elia in a phone message to parents. Permission slips have not yet been sent home.
And those masks? That's what students get to wear while they're sitting in the nurse's office, waiting for mom or dad to pick them up. Pinellas and Hernando officials say they follow the same policy. Every district in the Tampa Bay area will soon be receiving the extra masks that were ordered last spring when the outbreak began, officials said.
Last month, Hillsborough health director Doug Holt warned that area school districts could see absentee rates of up to 30 percent within the first few weeks of school. And at least one private school that began weeks earlier did, indeed, see a spike.
But so far this year, absence rates in the public schools are in the normal range.
For more details and updates, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com or read tomorrow's St. Petersburg Times.
-- Tom Marshall, Times Staff Writer