Administration preps for fall swine flu risks

Josh Goodman

Whitman is undergoing significant preparations in case of a swine flu emergency.
Whitman is undergoing significant preparations in case of a swine flu emergency.

With the start of the school year and the continuing spread of H1N1 influenza, also known as swine flu, Whitman’s administration is urging students to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

Students should “wash hands frequently or [use] hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol [and] avoid touching [their] face with hands,” urged Tracee Anderson, Chair of the Whitman College Pandemic Planning Team.

These recommendations come on the heels of H1N1’s arrival to Walla Walla in June and forecasts from the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization predicting that up to 40 percent of the world population will become infected during the next two years.

Those who become sick will have additional steps to take to prevent the spread of H1N1.

“More than ever, it is critical that we stay home from work and/or do not attend class or participate in group activities if we are sick,” Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland, also a member of the Pandemic Planning Team, wrote in an e-mail to all students.

According to an online survey, Whitman students seem to be getting the message.

“I’ll go into the health center if I get sick so they can check me out,” said senior Kelsi Evans, who also professed to washing her hands more and to being more aware of sick people around her.

That, in addition to staying isolated, is exactly what students should do when sick with flu-like symptoms, according to Anderson.

“Students and staff have been advised to seek medical attention if they do become ill, [and] stay isolated for 24 hours after their fever [or] symptoms have passed,” she said.

Anderson also underlined that those who are sick should wear a mask, minimize contact with objects used by others, such as doorknobs, and stay at least six feet away from other people.

While students across campus understand some of steps they can take to reduce the odds of infection, they have mixed reactions to the college’s response, which includes e-mails on how to stay protected and the assembly of kits to prevent transmission for students who become ill.

“It seems a bit overdone, especially having Scramble leaders take masks on trips to quarantine people with flu-like symptoms,” said first-year Rachel Alexander.   “It’s crazy how many people die every day from preventable illnesses like malaria in developing countries.   No one seems to care, but when a slightly more virulent strain of the flu comes to a developed country, everybody panics.”

“It’s good they’re being careful,” added first-year Ethan Maier. “But their response seems to have been based on trying to frighten us into action, which I believe is rather low brow.”

First-year Tyler King had a better impression.

“It has been adequate,” he said of the College’s response. “They have addressed the problem without stoking the coals of apocalyptic fear that seem to spread as fast as the disease itself. That balance is tricky, so I applaud their efforts.”

Down the road, students are positioned to get the H1N1 vaccination.

“The Walla Walla Department of Health will be given one percent of the vaccine allotted to the state of Washington in the initial distribution that is predicted in late October,” said Anderson.   “The current plan is that Whitman will receive an on-going allotment of the vaccine from the county Department of Health.”

So far, the College’s efforts to prevent the spread of H1N1 to students have not seriously affected operations.   Summer trips to Mexico, Ecuador, and Sweden: countries where H1N1 is widespread: went ahead as planned, according to the Off-Campus Studies Office.

Still, health staff are urging students to take H1N1 seriously, and to do all they can to prevent its spread.

“I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of students taking responsibility to isolate themselves and see their health care provider if they suspect they are ill with the flu,” Anderson said.   “We know that H1N1 will spread in Walla Walla.   We cannot prevent its spread entirely, but we can minimize its impact by taking steps to protect ourselves and others during this volatile situation.”

So take out the hand sanitizer, get a vaccine, and hope that H1N1 stays away.