Flu bug hits hard at some Berkshire elementary schools


LANESBOROUGH -- Only nine first-graders showed up to their class one day last week at Lanesborough Elementary School, according to the school nurse. The other five students were at home coping with the flu, a cold or a stomach virus, nurse Kathy Larson said.

Absenteeism last week at Lanesborough Elementary was at 23 percent of the student body, which is significantly higher than the normal rate, while Williamstown Elementary was at 14 percent, according to Rose Ellis, the superintendent of schools.

"We have become neurotic about hand sanitizers, wipes, and cleaning door knobs," Ellis said. "We've been vigilant."

Flu season in Massachusetts struck early, but the statewide rate of laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu dropped for the second straight week last week, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The department says the flu is geographically widespread, but of moderate intensity.

Since returning from winter break, Lanesborough and other elementary schools throughout the county have reported significantly higher absenteeism rates that has had some students missing school for nearly a week. Anecdotally, school officials in Lanesborough and Williamstown said they have not seen a significant increase in absenteeism in the upper grade levels.

"It's hitting our elementary school more significantly than high schools," Ellis said.

Berkshire Hills Regional School District's absenteeism rate typically ranges from 5 to 10 percent, Superintendent Peter Dillon said. Last week, the absenteeism was 10 to 15 percent. The district includes students from Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge.

On a typical day, Muddy Brook Elementary in Great Barrington could have 20 to 30 students call in sick, Dillon said. But last Friday, 77 students did not report to school. There were 46 students absent on Wednesday.

Dillon said that the students did not come to school because of a high fever, headache and body aches.

"The numbers have been higher, but thankfully they've gone down a little and people are staying healthy," Dillon said.

In North County, a similar pattern was evident.

North Berkshire School Union Superintendent Jon Lev oversees the elementary schools in Savoy, Florida and Clarksburg.

"In Savoy, the flu bug came through a couple of weeks ago affecting both teachers and students," Lev said. "At [Florida's elementary school] last week, we had 13 kids absent out of 130 and we had to send three home [Wednesday]."

Lev said Clarksburg Elementary -- so far -- has managed to fight off a flu bug attack.

Meanwhile, the Lee Public Schools have seen an "uptick" in illness among all grade levels since they returned from their Christmas week vacation, according to School Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless.

"But it's nothing to be alarmed about; our attendance is slightly below normal," he said. "We haven't had much trouble with the flu, [just] more of the coughing that won't stop."

School nurses advised parents not to send children back to school unless their fevers had receded and their temperatures have been normal for 24 hours.


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