On Wednesday, Yeshivat Noam’s Bergenfield and Paramus campuses closed until Monday because of concerns about influenza.
According to Principal Rabbi Chaim Hagler, the decision was made on Tuesday evening after conversations with the day school’s consulting pediatrician, Paramus Health Officer John Hopper, and other state and local medical professionals.
“On Monday night, two or three parents had called to let us know their children had flu-like symptoms and that they had heard of other cases as well,” said Hagler. “We used that as an opportunity to send an e-mail to parents with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control Website, encouraging them to keep children home if they had symptoms, and to go to their doctor to check it out.”
On Tuesday, however, up to 50 of the school’s 550 pre-K through grade seven pupils were out sick, almost all from the upper grades on the Paramus campus. Phone calls to each of the absent children’s parents revealed that many had, or were recovering from, flu symptoms. Additional ill children were sent home through the day, said Hagler.
“The strong advice we got was that it was in our best interest to close the school, especially with the long weekend for Shavuot, to give children a chance to recuperate and break the cycle of illness being spread,” said Hagler. As a precaution, the Bergenfield campus – which houses the early childhood department – also was closed.
Using the school’s automated “voice shot” system, all parents and teachers received phone calls about the suspension of classes by 6 that night. Hagler said e-mails also were sent out.
The suspension effectively amounted to only a day and a half, as Noam was scheduled to be closed for a half day Thursday and all day Friday in observance of the Shavuot holiday.
“On Monday, if there are still children absent, we will see what our health consultants recommend,” Hagler said. “But we feel this break will be the right antidote for the problem.”
The principal stressed that none of the sick Yeshivat Noam children had a confirmed case of influenza A (H1N1), the new “swine flu” or “Mexican flu” virus causing a worldwide scare.
According to Hopper in the Paramus health department, most new cases in the United States are caused by person-to-person transmission, and not any link to Mexico or pork products. Unlike usual seasonal flu, which tends to affect the very young and the elderly, this strain is occurring in young adults and is characterized by vomiting and diarrhea, said Hopper.
Other early signs of H1N1 are fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat, and runny nose, according to the World Health Organization. As of May 26, WHO reported that 46 countries have officially reported 12,954 laboratory-confirmed cases of the H1N1 infection, with the highest number (4,174) in the United States, followed by Mexico and Canada. As reported on the site cdc.gov/h1n1flu, most of the influenza viruses being detected in America now are indeed H1N1, and it is considered “widespread” in New Jersey.
Spokespeople at two other Paramus yeshivas, the Frisch high school and Yavneh Academy day school, told The Jewish Standard that they are not experiencing an unusual number of absences or incidents of flu-like symptoms among students.
Paramus School Superintendent Jim Montesano said attendance numbers throughout the borough’s public schools have been in the normal range. However, he added, eight or nine students at Paramus High School were sent home Tuesday by the school nurse, and “we are seeing reports of students and in some cases faculty with flu-like symptoms.”
To date, the only other New Jersey day school to have suspended classes because of flu concerns was the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston. Over the past week, six Brooklyn yeshivas – in Flatbush, Borough Park, and Williamsburg – also closed temporarily because of high absenteeism. It is unclear how many of the sick children, if any, were affected by H1N1.
“Ultimately, we felt we did not want to take a chance,” said Hagler. “If everybody comes back to school healthy next week, this was all worth it.”
The best way to prevent the spread of the virus is frequent hand-washing, said Hopper. People should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, he added.