Updated 6:00 p.m.: Revised to include additional information.
A private Catholic school in Dallas will be closed until Tuesday after a spike in illness-related absences.
St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School said it made the decision after the Dallas County health department recommended closing the school for five days to slow the spread of the flu, according to a letter to parents. The school also won’t have extracurricular activities until it reopens.
As of Friday, Dallas County had reported 16 flu-related deaths during the 2019-20 season. All but one of the victims — a 16-year-old Dallas resident — were adults. The county said it was also awaiting results from the medical examiner’s office for two possible flu-related deaths of children.
The latest flu-related death was of a 62-year-old Dallas resident who had underlying medical conditions, the health department reported Friday.
Flu activity is still high across the state and in Dallas County, according to the most recent flu activity reports.
Humans are susceptible to three types of influenza viruses — A, B and C. Types A and B are most common in humans during flu season. Type A is a more serious form of the virus and is known to cause pandemics, or global outbreaks of the disease, while Type B evolves more slowly and is known to cause epidemics, or outbreaks in communities. Type C infections are usually much milder.
This flu season has been marked by the dominance of Type B influenza. The Department of State Health Services said in its recent report that though Type B cases are decreasing, Type A influenza is on the rise.
Elsewhere in North Texas, Grand Saline ISD in Van Zandt County said in a letter Wednesday that it also would close until Tuesday because of "low attendance attributed to the flu.” The district said it will deep-clean the school.
Rio Vista ISD, a district in Johnson County, announced earlier this week it would close early “due to flu and other illnesses." Classes will resume there on Tuesday.
Many Dallas-area districts — including Dallas, Garland, Fort Worth, Frisco, Grand Prairie, McKinney, Plano and Rockwall ISDs — said they don’t plan to close any schools and haven’t seen an increase in absences.
Some districts, including Dallas and Fort Worth ISDs, don’t track absences or sick children by specific illness, and they don’t have a set threshold for the absence rate that would result in school closure.
At Garland ISD, an absence rate that was more than 10% higher than normal probably would result in a school closure, said Mida Milligan, executive director of communications and public relations at the district.
She said the district hasn’t seen an uptick in absences but is taking extra precautions, including the use of a misting system for the nightly disinfection of classrooms.
At Dallas ISD, an outside cleaning company cleans a campus or specific classroom when the district’s health department notices an uptick in absences, said Robyn Harris, the district’s news and information director.
“Our health services department monitors the absenteeism rate … and looks for certain outcomes,” Harris said. “It could be a larger number of teachers have been sick, it could be [the absence rate in] one individual classroom. It’s something they monitor at the height of flu season and throughout the school year.”
She said that the district’s absence rate is about the same as other flu seasons and that the district hasn’t had any discussions about closing schools.
Lesley Range-Stanton, executive director for communications at Plano ISD, said the district has been proactive in sharing information with students and parents and that schools in “high touch areas" are also deep-cleaned as needed.
Similarly, Frisco ISD also does additional cleaning at campuses that report more absences or illnesses, said Korinna Kirchhoff, a communications facilitator for the district.
Do your part to prevent spreading the flu
- Get a flu shot.
- Cover your cough with a tissue or your sleeve.
- Don't go to work sick and don't drop off a sick child at a child-care facility or school, where infections can spread quickly.
- Wash your hands often and keep your hands away from your face.
SOURCE: Dallas County Health and Human Services
CORRECTION, 10:32 a.m. Feb. 14: An earlier version misspelled the name of Garland ISD spokeswoman Mida Milligan.