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Hall schools advise vigilance in letter
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Amid concerns of a possible swine flu pandemic, local schools are taking precautions and keeping parents informed.

Spokesman Gordon Higgins said the Hall County school system sent a letter to parents Wednesday.

"Given the attention the swine flu is getting right now on a national and international level, we have gotten some inquiries, of course, from our parents about the community health department and also the school system what our response will be," Higgins said. "We thought it imperative we got something to parents so they would know what we’d been doing in order of preparation and what happen in the event something does happen here in Hall County."

Higgins said the school system has a plan in place that follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for school closure if a case is confirmed.

"Your child’s health and safety are our top concerns," the letter read. "The Hall County School System has a close relationship with the Hall County Health Department. If any local cases of swine flu are discovered we will be notified. Likewise, if our teachers and nurses see students with flu-like symptoms, we will share this important information with the Health Department."

The letter also contained preventative tips such as frequent hand washing and avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth.

Shirley Whitaker, assistant superintendent of Gainesville schools, said many school principals are sending similar information home to parents through newsletters.

"We’re doing a lot, I think, to make sure we’re as safe as possible," Whitaker said.

She said the Gainesville school system is taking a number of precautions against the flu virus.

Whitaker said students who recently have been to Mexico, the epicenter of the virus, are being monitored by school nurses.

"We have alerted the nurses to be very aware of children who have been to Mexico," Whitaker said. "If we have any children coming to register from Mexico we will register them but we will not send them to school for a two-week period to make sure they are well."

Wednesday, the World Health Organization raised the alert level to Phase 5, indicating widespread human-to-human transmission. That’s just one step below Phase 6, a full-fledged pandemic. It was the first time the agency had declared a Phase 5 outbreak, the second-highest on its threat scale, indicating a pandemic could be imminent.

Dr. Richard Besser, the acting chief of the CDC in Atlanta, said that there are confirmed cases now in 10 states, with 51 in New York, 14 in California and 16 in Texas, where officials said Wednesday they were postponing all public high school athletic and academic competitions until May 11.

Two cases have been confirmed in Kansas, Massachusetts and Michigan, while single cases have been reported in Arizona, Indiana, Nevada and Ohio.

State officials in Maine said laboratory tests also had confirmed three cases in that state, although those had not yet been included in the CDC count.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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