UPDATE: Knox County joins the list of school systems closing due to illness

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – East Tennessee schools are hard hit by absences of sick students this week and are canceling classes in hopes of stopping the spread of illnesses.

Knox County is the latest — and largest — area school system to cancel school this week. It announced late Tuesday afternoon, it will close the rest of the week.

RELATED: List of school closings

Officials with Hawkins, Roane and Campbell County schools also announced Tuesday that increased illness will see the schools close for a period this week.

“We have been closely monitoring our attendance this week, and we are seeing an increase in the number of students, staff, and substitutes who are affected by illness,” Knox County Director of Public Affairs Carly Harrington wrote in an email to families. “Knox County Schools will be closed for the rest of the week, including all school-based activities.”

Central Office, maintenance, and custodial staff will report to work as scheduled, she said.

“We recognize closing can be an inconvenience for our families, but we anticipate a long weekend will help give our students and staff the opportunity to be healthy when we return to school on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020,” Harrington said in the email.

Campbell County Schools announced just after 1:30 p.m. on its Facebook page that it would join Roane County Schools in closing for the rest of the week.

According to the Roane County Schools’ Facebook page “student, staff, and bus driver absences” led to the decision to close schools.

RELATED: Department of Health confirms 8 flu deaths in Tennessee

In a post on the Hawkins County Schools’ Facebook Page, Director of Schools Matt Hixson said schools there would continue this week before closing Friday to give the students and teachers a longer weekend to recover from illness.

“We are also seeing many of our hard-working and dedicated teachers, staff, and bus drivers affected by both the flu and stomach viruses at this time,” Hixon said. “Our staff will use Friday, January 31 to thoroughly clean and disinfect all classrooms, common areas, cafeterias and buses.”

Loudon County High School dismissed at noon Tuesday due to a water line break.

Dr. Shannon Cohen, a pediatrician with East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, said the hospital had 155 patients test positive with the flu in the week of Jan. 20 alone.

She said the most common reason for hospitalizations with the flu, it’s not for the virus itself, but for secondary illnesses such as pneumonia and dehydration.

“The children are vomiting, they can’t drink well, and they get dehydrated, so they need to be admitted for IV fluids to keep their hydration status up,” Cohen said.

Cohen said that while schools are disinfecting everything, parents should do the same.

She said there are two good reasons why schools should close when many students and teachers are sick, and the main reason behind two is because germs linger.

“When they close the schools, it gives them the ability to clean all those surfaces down, disinfect them, but also allows children to stay home and get over their illness and not bring it back to school,” Cohen said.

After all the cleaning, Cohen said that it only takes one student to come back to school sick to start spreading the virus again.

She said that the most noticeable symptoms of the flu are a fever, body aches and respiratory issues.

“If they’re having significant cough where stuff is coming up; they can get
secretions on things, on their hands; where they’re going to touch door knobs, touch desks where somebody else can come and touch it– you would not want to send them to school for that. If they’re having so much runny nose that it’s dripping everywhere, that it could spread to somebody else– those are the symptoms that you (would) be better off to keep them at home, monitor them so those aren’t spread to others,” Cohen said.

She said that a child with the flu shouldn’t go back to school until at least 24 hours after the child no longer has a fever.

Cohen also said to be very careful around babies. Infants younger than 6 months cannot get the flu vaccine, so Cohen said don’t kiss babies if you’re not feeling well.

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