SOUTH CAROLINA — God seems to have blessed Catholic schools with his protective hand in terms of the H1N1 virus.
Most of the Diocese of Charleston schools contacted by The Miscellany said they had seen only a few cases of the swine flu, but neighboring public schools were battling high absenteeism from the flu and other bugs.
“We have had a few kids out here and there, but we haven’t had anything major,” said Phyllis Brandis, principal of St. Anthony School in Florence.
She credits the staff and students with closely following all the precautions sent out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Other schools have been affected despite safeguards, Brandis said, adding that a nearby school reported 40 absences in one day.
Catholic schools in the Lowcountry deanery also reported relative good health.
“We are free and clear of the flu,” said Chris Trott, principal of St. Peter School in Beaufort. “We’re very thankful and blessed at this time.”
He said they strictly follow CDC guidelines and urge parents to have children vaccinated. Trott added that other schools had been hit hard and said the flu had “run amok” with swim team members at Beaufort High School.
High schools as a whole appear to have more illness among the students than primary schools.
At Cardinal Newman in Columbia, the football team had to forfeit a game when half the players came down with the flu. Michael Bolchoz, the head football coach and assistant principal, said the school had never canceled a game before, but because of a smaller roster this year, they had “a lack of healthy players.”
“It is absolutely not an epidemic at the school,” he said. “For whatever reason, it just hit the football team hard.”
Meanwhile, elementary students, generally known for runny noses and coughs, are faring better.
Carole Anne White, principal of St. John in North Charleston, said the students and staff wipe down all the desks daily with Clorox wipes. She also instructed the janitor to clean all the doorknobs every day.
“We have been fortunate,” she said. “We have had only one or two cases that have been diagnosed as swine flu. We’re trying to keep the kids careful without scaring them.”
Aside from cleaning, one of the most common precautions taken by schools is teaching children, and adults, that the proper way to cough and sneeze is into the crook of their arm instead of their hand. Posters throughout the school reinforce this habit.
Sara Ostendorff, a nurse at Our Lady of the Rosary church and school in Greenville, said the overall anxiety level regarding this flu season is higher than normal, but so far, it seems to be a standard year.
As an employee of St. Francis Health System, Ostendorff said she receives constant updates and has not seen anything to set off alarm bells.
Other health officials agreed. Kate Byrne, the part-time nurse at Christ Our King-Stella Maris School in Mount Pleasant, said based on media coverage, she thought all the schools would be closing because of flu outbreaks. Nothing like that has happened, she said, although the school had a mild scare recently when five to seven cases of swine flu popped up in one week.
Jean Moschella, principal, said she informed parents of the flu cases, reminded them of CDC guidelines, and had the school thoroughly disinfected with bleach over the weekend.
“We are majorly taking precautions,” Byrne said. “We’re trying to prevent the spread; we’re trying to stay on top of it at all times.”