Today, officials announced that a fourth Boston-area school would be closing temporarily because of suspected cases of the H1N1 Virus, formerly known as Swine Flu. The suspension of school-related activities at Fessenden School in Newton, the Dana Hall school in Wellesley, the Winsor School in Boston, and the city's largest public school, Boston Latin, have some far-reaching effects: delayed tests, canceled events, a postponed prom, among other things.
I'm concerned for the handful of sick kids, of course, but I can't help but put myself in the parents' shoes. What are all of those kids -- more than 2,500 of them, total -- going to do with their impromptu week-long vacation? And how are working parents going to juggle this?
The students are middle schoolers and high schoolers -- some are probably old enough to stay home alone for the day, but not all. Some are bound to have siblings who attend other schools, ones that aren't shuttering for a week because of a possible outbreak... what about them? Are they supposed to be in contact with a cloistered sibling at night, but then head out the door to sneeze on other people during the day? It can be difficult to decide whether to keep a sick child home from school; trying to figure out whether to stay home with one who seems perfectly fine is another issue entirely.
And what about the parents? A recent survey by Monster.com shows that 71 percent of employees show up for work when they're sick. The survey suggests that, in this economy, many people are choosing their jobs over their health (and I'll admit that I am usually among the guilty), but others simply don't have the sick days to use.
I do wonder if we're making too much of this. While easily transmitted and seemingly more contagious than other forms of influenza, The World Health Organization says that the H1N1 virus seems to cause only mild illness in otherwise healthy people; out of 9,830 cases reported thus far worldwide, there have been only 79 deaths. In comparison, last year 36,000 people died in the US from complications from influenza during the "regular" flu season, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Wondering how the illnesses have played out in Massachusetts? Boston.com has a great graphic about it.)
Interestingly enough, though the Winsor School decided to close from today until May 27 because of flu concerns, members of their Small Chorus performed last night at Fenway Park, singing the American and Canadian national anthems at the Red Sox/Blue Jays game. Maybe the outbreak isn't that big a deal, after all.
[edited to add: More schools have now announced temporary closings; see the article on Boston.com for details. -- LMA]
Has your family been affected by the H1N1 virus outbreak? Did your child's school close temporarily? How did you handle it?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.