Editor’s note: The following is the fourth part in a five-part series. Part one appeared in the Aug. 5-11, 2009, issue, part two in the Oct. 14-20, 2009, issue, and part three in the Oct. 21-27, 2009, issue.
By Susan Johnson
The U.S. government has plans to deal with an expected swine flu (H1N1) pandemic this fall. Since the World Health Organization(WHO) has declared a
Level 6” status for this health threat, several pieces of legislation are prepared to give the federal government new powers superseding those of states and localities. But not everyone agrees that this level of government control is justified and some believe it may, in fact, be unconstitutional.
Winnebago County Health Department Public Health Administrator Mike Bacon said Oct. 23: “The Winnebago County Health Department regrets to announce a second adult resident of Winnebago County has died from complications related to 2009 H1N1 influenza infection. With increasing influenza activity, there is the increasing prospect for more serious health consequences.”
Since April 2009, Winnebago County Health Department has reported 81 cases and 23 hospitalizations associated with H1N1 and two deaths. In Illinois, there have been 542 hospitalizations and 22 deaths related to H1N1 influenza.
Comments from local officials
July 30, 2009, The Rock River Times spoke with State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34) about the possible application of the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act, which can be used when a town or state is faced with a
situation. This law enables the government to seize or quarantine a town and all the residents and may include seizure of property.
This model act, drafted Oct. 23, 2001, would revise some subjects covered by existing public health laws, such as reporting of contagious diseases, disposal of the dead, and quarantines.
Sen. Syverson told us:
We have no state act in place that has any mandatory immunization [powers] outside of the usual children’s vaccines for school. As far as adults, [vaccines] that are mandatory for fall-back programs, there isn’t.
Commenting about the H1N1 (swine flu) scare in northern Illinois, Syverson said:
When they started closing schools down for two weeks, even though they said the life of this bug was only 24 to 48 hours, and then they spend money sending in a crew to clean the schools—well, if the bug can only last 24 to 48 hours, why close the schools for two weeks and spend all that money? It’s the overreaction of scaring all these people and getting school districts to get scared.
Thank goodness, most people realized it was an overreaction, and they reopened the schools,” Syverson continued. “Considering the amount of money that was spent on this without any legitimacy or proof that there was a real problem, and they say three people have died from this without saying 30,000 people have died from the regular flu. It was clearly meant to scare people.
“If you scare enough people, they will give up anything—their rights and their freedom,” Syverson said. “I do have a real fear that those in government that create these things ought to be held accountable because how many times can you cry ‘wolf’ and it might be the real thing? The next time the government says there’s going to be a pandemic, who’s going to believe them because they over-exaggerated, and now people are starting to have doubts about their government? So, it’s basically [they need to be] much more careful in their choice of words and actions so they don’t create a fear that may not need to be there.
Sue Fuller, Community Relations director at the Winnebago County Health Department, said:
The real name is now H1N1. We’re following the CDC school guidelines that were issued in August. It is that children stay home when they are sick and stay home 24 hours after the fever has gone away. We separate ill students and staff. Use good hygiene with respiratory etiquette—the three Cs—Clean, Cover, Contain. Clean is: Wash hands frequently. Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve so you sneeze into the crux of the elbow. Contain your germs—stay home if you are sick. The Illinois Department of Public Health says it’s as easy as 1-2-3. (1) Get your seasonal flu shot. (2) Get your H1N1 shot. (3) Follow the three Cs. This information comes from the national level.
The recommendation is, get your seasonal flu shot now, and get your H1N1 vaccination when it becomes available,” Fuller continued. “The priority groups are: (1) Pregnant women; (2) Household and caregiver contacts of children younger than 6 months of age; (3) Health care and emergency medical service personnel; (4) Children and young adults ages 6 months through 24 years; (5) Persons age 25 through 64 who have medical conditions which put them at risk for complications of death from influenza.
She noted that, at present, the vaccinations are voluntary.
Mary Fisher, Health Services supervisor, Rockford Public School District 205, explained:
Right now, we certainly take our cues from the local Health Department. They are aware of what’s happening in the community. If that meant that their recommendations were for us to clean the building and have students stay home, we would certainly do that. Right now, we are hoping to give students and staff the message to use prevention—proper hand washing, covering the cough. These are the big things.
“We are increasing the announcements in the schools today to allow time for hand washing, increasing the signs that are placed around the building, just like you see in public, for covering a cough, washing the hands, and certainly monitoring kids and staff for illness,” Fisher added. “We’d certainly take into consideration anything that the Health Department advised us. If that meant closing a school, we would certainly consider that, but at this point, we are just on high alert and using prevention. We have, for years, monitored attendance, and reported that to the Health Department, and we want to continue doing that so we would know if a sickness should arise.
Rockford Public Schools Superintendent LaVonne M. Sheffield, Ph.D., sent a letter to parents of students in District 205, in which she outlined the procedure the District is following to promote health safety for students. She also listed some basic steps parents could take. The letter concluded:
Finally, the Winnebago County Health Department will be providing H1N1 vaccinations at all schools during the next few weeks. Please watch for consent forms, which will be sent home with students.
Chuck Brown, spokesman for Rockford College, said:
We have a plan in place, but don’t want to unveil it now. Rockford College is concerned about the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff. We are monitoring the situation closely. We have communicated with the college community. Right now, we are looking at preventive measures that people can take. For instance, you have to cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze. We listed all of these and informed the college community that we are monitoring the situation closely in collaboration with the local and state health departments. We are trying to be proactive; we are taking it one step at a time.
Amy Diaz, vice president of Student Development, Rock Valley College, said:
What we’ve been doing is, we’ve been following any suggested protocol from the Winnebago County Health Department, who receives their instructions from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. We’ve been receiving information on the CDC Web site, along with directives from the Winnebago County Health Department on what to do should a student or an employee be diagnosed with H1N1. Essentially, because we are a community college with no on-campus housing, the protocol is that if a student or a staff person should become ill, the idea is if you are sick, you need to stay home. Working with students specifically, ideally the student would inform the faculty members, and either the faculty member or the student himself would call to let me know so I can track the number of cases.
“I’ve been calling the Winnebago County Health Department with any questions we have on how to work through a particular situation,” Diaz added. “But today [Oct. 13] we have no actual confirmed cases of which I am aware. In terms of actual confirmed cases, we have not heard any yet, but we suspect that there probably are students who have H1N1 but do not know it yet.
Kelly Jacobec, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said:
The best way to stay healthy is to remember the three Cs—Clean, Cover your cough or sneeze, and Contain. Stay home if you are sick. There is a lot of information on our Web site: www.ready.-illinois.gov. The H1N1 vaccine is not yet available to the public at large. Right now, our first shipments coming into Illinois are being administered to health care workers; [then] the priority populations as designated by the CDC. We recommend that everyone receive the seasonal flu vaccine this year and also the H1N1 vaccine.
To be continued…
From the October 28 – November 3, 2009