Possible flu cases close metro schoolsby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Five Minnesota schools were closed Monday because of two separate cases of suspected H1N1 influenza in Hennepin County.
Health and school authorities closed all public schools in Orono, as well as Emerson Spanish Immersion school in Minneapolis, effective. Orono High School will remain closed on Tuesday, but other schools in the district will reopen.
John Steiger, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Health, said two suspected cases of the new H1N1 flu involve people at the schools.
"We had sent to the CDC a number of probable cases of the H1N1 novel flu virus late last week, and we realized that a couple of schools are involved in those cases," said Stieger. "Out of an abundance of caution, school officials have chosen to close those schools."
About 2,600 students and 300 staff are out of the other four schools, in the Orono district, which services some western suburbs of Minneapolis including the cities of Independence, Long Lake, Maple Plain, Medina, Minnetonka Beach, as well as Orono.
Among them are Mike Rodewald's son and daughter. They're both first graders, and live in Orono. Rodewald said he and his wife weren't entirely surprised by the announcement.
"I've already told my work that I may be working from home, just because I was suspecting that schools may be closed some time, at some point," said Rodewald.
He said he'd rather his kids stay home anyway because his son's asthma could make a flu infection more dangerous.
Emerson Spanish Immersion school in Minneapolis is also closed. The school is a K-8 program located near Loring Park just south of downtown. About 550 students go to classes there, according to district spokesman Stan Alleyne.
Alleyne said district officials plan to follow a federally recommended procedure for responding to infection threats.
"The procedure is for seven days, so we anticipate the school reopening on Monday, May 11," said Alleyne.
As it is, Monday is a non-instructional day for all Minneapolis public schools, so no students will have classes anyway.
Alleyne said school officials plan extra cleaning at Emerson to help combat the flu while students are out.
It's the second round of school closures related to the new flu strain.
Schools in the Cold Spring area near St. Cloud were closed last week in the wake of Minnesota's first confirmed case of the H1N1 flu.
State officials confirmed the first case of the new flu last week, and said they suspected eight more on Friday. Two of those have since been ruled out as regular seasonal influenza.
But two others prompted the school shutdowns.
The Health Department said another Hennepin County case remains under investgation. So are indiviual cases in each of Isanti, Dakota and Wright counties.
Word of the closures comes after Mexican authorities said they believe the flu threat is easing. The virus was first found in a Mexican boy. Many of the cases in the U.S. have also been traced to people who recently traveled to Mexico.
But Steiger say Minnesota shouldn't let down its guard.
"We've been doing an aggressive surveillance for the virus for the last week and a half," said Steiger. "While we're very hopeful that things will start improving, just by the mere fact that it is a new virus means we don't know entirely how it's going to behave. But we are going to remain vigilant as we go forward."
The state's Department of Health said it tested samples from 420 people as of noon on Sunday. About 20 more were awaiting testing.
None of Minnesota's probable cases have required hospitalization, and all of the ill are expected to make a full recovery.
- Morning Edition, 05/04/2009, 6:50 a.m.