School systems in at least five states shut down Monday due to staff and student flu-like and respiratory illnesses, at a time when school leaders are attempting more stability with in-person learning after several years of COVID-19 interruptions.
A "tripledemic" of the flu season, the lingering pandemic and respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, is wreaking havoc on plans to boost learning supports and professional development opportunities. RSV, flu and COVID-19 are all respiratory viruses that can cause coughing, runny noses and fevers, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
In Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia — at least — districts are experiencing systemwide closures, according to local reports, district websites and social media posts.
Jackson County Public Schools in Sylva, North Carolina, canceled classes for its 3,600 students Monday. For its more than 600 employees, it was an optional workday.
"This week JCPS has experienced very high absenteeism for both students and staff," the district said in a Facebook post Saturday. "The biggest hurdle has been staffing classes where employees are absent."
It was not a remote learning day, and classes were expected to resume Tuesday.
Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, Kentucky, did not hold virtual or in-person classes Monday for its 41,000 students due to widespread illnesses and staff absences.
"District leaders routinely monitor student and staff absences throughout the year," a Nov. 6 note on the district's website said. "Over the past week, the number of students and staff out continued to climb, with several pockets of unusually high absences."
While the schools are empty Monday as well as during the previously scheduled day off Tuesday for elections, custodial staff will do a deep cleaning of facilities, the note said. The district also opened three school-based clinics for students and families on Monday.
In Guntersville, Alabama, the 5,700-student Marshall County Schools switched to virtual learning for Monday through Thursday this week because of increased flu cases among both staff and students, according to a notice on its website.
"Due to staff shortages, we are unable to operate," the Marshall County Schools notice said, adding that because of the planned Veteran's Day holiday on Friday, the school system will have a nine-day period to "mitigate the spread of the flu virus."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises school systems to conduct routine cleaning and provide cleaning supplies, according to its school-specific seasonal flu guidance. Additionally, the CDC suggests educating staff, students and families on what to do if someone gets sick, including protocols for when it is OK and not OK to come to school.
The agency also recommends maintaining updated communications with local and state health departments, encouraging hand-washing hygiene and promoting vaccinations for the flu and COVID-19. There is not yet a vaccination for RSV.
Donna Mazyck, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses, said in an email that the association's flu-mitigation advice also includes vaccination, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, not touching eyes, nose, mouth, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that may be contaminated. The group also recommends staying home when sick and taking any prescribed medication, Mazyck said.
"Across the nation, seasonal flu-like respiratory illnesses are in communities, including schools," she noted.