Dade County cancels class as flu surges in Georgia

Dade County Schools cancelled class Thursday and Friday after 20 percent of students called in sick, making Dade the second North Georgia school district this year to close due to outbreaks of influenza and norovirus.

Dade Middle School was missing 42 percent of its students on Wednesday.

“The event that really I think accelerated the virus or flu was a dance that we had Friday night at the middle school,” said Superintendent Jan Harris, who noted that more than 20 percent of bus drivers and 10 percent of faculty were also out sick.

Dade used guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to clean schools while they are empty.

Earlier this month, Walker County Schools, which neighbors Dade and infected Tennessee counties, cancelled two class days after more than 1,000 students called in sick and about 350 checked out early. The district also had 33 bus drivers and 80 teachers too ill to work.

In the two weeks since Walker County closed schools, the number of Georgians hospitalized with the flu has jumped 48 percent, bringing this flu season’s total to almost 500 people. More than half of these, 239, are in metro Atlanta, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Four Georgians have died.

Scroll over the graph below to see weekly totals:

Metro Atlanta districts are staying vigilant. Fulton County Schools has seen an uptick in absences in recent weeks, but Spokesperson Susan Hale noted that this is common after three-day weekends and includes the Day Without Immigrants, during which many students stayed home as a sign of protest.

“While we’ve had some higher absenteeism in the North Fulton area, it is not nearly high enough to consider measures like closing school,” said Hale in an email.

Cobb County Schools are closed this week for winter break. In Gwinnett, a large pool of substitutes are ready to fill in for sick teachers, and HR staff are prepared to fill in if both teachers and substitutes are too sick to work, spokesperson Sloan Roach said in an email. Gwinnett has not seen any unusual staff absences this flu season, but more than 10 percent of students in two Gwinnett schools were absent due to illness.

Georgia is hardly alone in battling viral outbreaks. Schools in 15 states have cancelled class this month due to outbreaks of influenza. The virus is widespread in 46 states and Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The flu and norovirus are highly contagious viruses. To prevent their spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom and before handling food, disinfecting surfaces and not sharing food, drinks or utensils.

People infected with norovirus are contagious from when symptoms appear until a few days after symptoms stop. Those with the flu are contagious from the day before symptoms appear until a week after symptoms stop.