SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced a new guide for Illinois schools that provides them the tools they need to proactively plan and prepare for a pandemic flu outbreak. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) jointly prepared the School Guidance During an Influenza Pandemic document.
“We need to prepare for a pandemic flu outbreak at every level. Earlier this year, we tested our state’s ability to respond to a pandemic flu outbreak. We need to make sure our schools are ready too. School administrators would face challenges like determining when to require sick students, teachers and staff to stay home or when to close their schools. This guide will help them prepare for these kinds of decisions,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
The School Guidance During an Influenza Pandemic includes school action steps, a pandemic planning checklist, public health instructions, fact sheets about pandemic flu versus seasonal flu, and sample letters schools can send to parents to keep them informed during a pandemic.
“We’ve included in this guide basic information about stopping the spread of germs so people know some of the steps they can take to help stave off pandemic flu and reduce its spread,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, Illinois Department of Public Health Director. “There is also information in the guide about monitoring and documenting the number of students and staff who are absent with influenza-like-illness. Keeping track of absenteeism will help officials determine when and whether to close schools and track the progress of the disease in the community.”
In the case of a pandemic, any decision for an emergency school closing should be made by the local district with consultation, or at the direction, of the local health department, emergency management agency and Regional Office of Education.
“The health and wellbeing of our students and school personnel across Illinois is of utmost importance. It is essential to have guidelines in place should we experience a pandemic flu outbreak,” said Interim State School Superintendent Christopher Koch.
The School Guidance During an Influenza Pandemic is the result of work by a subcommittee of the Pandemic Flu Work Group created to address things such as personal protective equipment, alternate care facilities and antiviral/vaccine prioritization. The Pandemic Flu Work Group continues to work on creating additional documents addressing these issues.
Other pandemic flu preparations Illinois has made include:
- Pandemic Flu Summit: In March 2006, Gov. Blagojevich and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt hosted a summit addressing federal, state and local public health officials, business and community leaders and the public about pandemic flu preparedness. The Governor and Secretary Leavitt signed a planning resolution committing the state and federal governments to planning efforts.
- Tabletop Exercises: The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) conducted three tabletop exercises on pandemic influenza in 2006 designed to document specific action steps and resources needed to improve preparedness efforts in the state. Several state agencies including the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois State Board of Education participated in the tabletop exercises along with local health departments, hospitals and other health care organizations.
- FLUEX 2006: An ambitious three-day exercise held in May 2006 tested the state’s preparedness for handling a major health crisis and simultaneous terrorist attacks to help improve emergency planning and preparedness in Illinois. More than 50 representatives from state and federal agencies and the American Red Cross reported to the State Incident Response Center (SIRC) within the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Springfield to participate in the exercise.
- Prairie Thunder Exercise: The state conducted a major five-day emergency response exercise in the Metro East area in August 2006 to test the state’s ability to respond to large-scale emergencies, which included a mass evacuation and sheltering component. The exercise brought federal, state and local response organizations together in a coordinated response to multiple emergency scenarios that included intelligence gathering and response to simulated terrorist attacks, distribution of materials from the Strategic National Stockpile, victim search and rescue efforts and establishment of a field hospital for treating “victims”.
- IDPH also hosted “Partners Sustaining the Heartland,” an Illinois Bioterrorism Summit in Oak Brook in August 2006 for public health professionals involved in bioterrorism and emergency preparedness planning and response. The Summit provided a comprehensive overview of federal, state and local bioterrorism and emergency preparedness activities in Illinois.
For a copy of School Guidance During an Influenza Pandemic, log onto www.isbe.net/regionaloffices/pandemic_guidance.htm or www.idph.state.il.us/pandemic_flu/schoolguide.htm.
The State of Illinois Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan can be found at www.idph.state.il.us/pandemic_flu/index.htm.