Seasonal influenza, typically called “the flu,” is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses that infect the respiratory system (nose throat, lungs). Symptoms range from fever, dry cough, runny nose and muscle aches that could potentially lead to pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, and other more severe complications. Influenza can cause illness in all ages and in some cases can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications.
A pandemic flu occurs when a new influenza virus for which people have no immunity spreads among the populations around the world. If an influenza pandemic should occur, the incidence of serious illness and death from influenza will likely increase significantly. Because it is a new virus, it may take six months or longer to develop a pandemic flu vaccine.
Flu can spread quickly, especially when large groups of individuals gather, like in the educational setting. Droplets from the nose or mouth spread the flu virus from person to person, typically through coughing and sneezing. School staff and students are often in close contact, sharing the same space, supplies and equipment for long periods of time. Therefore, they are at risk of spreading flu and other illnesses to each other.
In the event of a health crisis such as a pandemic flu, it may become necessary to modify school operations; however, that can only be determined based on the characteristics of the specific pandemic and the extent of spread through individual communities.
Protecting the health of students, staff and the community from highly contagious, infectious diseases like pandemic influenza is a high priority for Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools (WJCC Schools). The WJCC Schools Pandemic Flu Response Plan provides a framework for the school division to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a pandemic outbreak and any resulting factors that may impact the division’s ability to remain fully operational.
This plan was originally developed in 2008 with input from the Peninsula Department of Health (PDH) and is based on guidance from the Virginia Department of Health (VDOH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The plan was updated in February 2020 and reviewed by PDH staff.
In Virginia, and locally in Williamsburg and James City County, various agencies and public officials have overlapping authority when it comes to protecting public health and safety. Should a pandemic event take place, WJCC Schools will work collaboratively with state and local health experts, emergency management staff from Williamsburg and James City County and state and federal officials to:
- Limit (as possible) the spread of illness;
- Provide continuity of school functions; and
- Minimize the loss of instruction.
According to the Code of Virginia § 44-146.17(7), the Governor of Virginia has authority to declare a state of emergency when the safety and welfare of the people of Virginia require emergency measures due to a threat of or actual disaster.
According to the Code of Virginia § 32.1-43, the State Health Commissioner has the authority to require quarantine and/or isolation under exceptional circumstances when any communicable disease becomes a public health threat.
Local school boards and superintendents have the power to close school (inherent in Article VIII, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia).).
In Accordance with WJCC Schools Policy ICA, the superintendent has the authority to amend any adopted school calendar in the event of inclement weather or emergency conditions.
School Division Actions Related to a Flu Pandemic
A pandemic influenza event will have widespread effects on the citizens of the Commonwealth. Because each event will be unique, this plan provides a framework for WJCC Schools staff to work from, while still allowing flexibility to react to ever-changing conditions.
WJCC Schools is committed to ensuring continuity of student learning and providing a safe and secure environment for students and staff. As such, this plan will be reviewed annually to reflect current practices, technology and available resources to support coordinated planning and response to a pandemic.