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Schools set to reopen amid flu scare

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Caleb Figge and teammates from Park City High School warm up before a baseball game on Tuesday against Uintah High School.

Caleb Figge and teammates from Park City High School warm up before a baseball game on Tuesday against Uintah High School.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

It's back to the books for hundreds of Utah students who got an unexpected break from the classroom in recent days, after officials closed their schools over concerns about the spread of the H1N1 flu virus.

Though the number of "probable" cases continues to rise and now stands at 28 in Utah, Park City High School, Judge Memorial Catholic High School, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School and Redwood Elementary in the Granite School District are all set to reopen today, after state and local health officials made the recommendation, based on new federal guidelines.

Other Park City schools are set to reopen on Thursday, according to a news release issued Tuesday afternoon by district officials.

Sports and extracurricular activities at Park City High School and Judge Memorial resumed on Tuesday, meaning student athletes concerned about missing regional and state competitions will still be allowed to participate.

The Utah Department of Health reported, as of 1 p.m. Tuesday, that the state has 28 "probable" cases and one confirmed case of the virus as follows:

Summit County: 16 probable, one confirmed,

Salt Lake Valley: seven probable,

Weber-Morgan: two probable,

Utah County: two probable,

Unnamed county: one probable.

Department spokesman Tom Hudachko said that in the unnamed case, health-district officials preferred that the location not be disclosed "until they have had a chance to communicate with constituents."

Though the state coordinates its direction with that of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "school (closing) decisions will remain a local decision," Hudachko said.

The decisions came at various times on Tuesday after Kathleen Sebelius, the nation's new secretary of Health and Human Services, told reporters during a press briefing at the CDC in Atlanta that despite continued worries about rapid transmission, the virus has been a much milder version of the disease than originally feared.

As a result, "we recommend that schools cease closing with affected cases," she said, adding that the recommendation "makes it even more important that parents and teachers pay attention to any sickness," and people should stay at home when they're ill. New federal guidelines on school closings related to the virus can be found at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/K12_dismissal.htm.

Sebelius also issued a special plea to parents to be vigilant in keeping their children away from others if they are ill. "Don't turn around and keep children home and then send them to the mall," she said. "It's really about staying home so the infection can't be spread any further."

She said efforts to ramp up production of a vaccine for the virus are now under way, adding that rescinding the recommendation on school closure "is not an indication of what course the virus will take. We don't know what will happen this summer or in the fall, when seasonal flu begins."

Officials fear the virus may mutate and become more virulent over time.

CDC officials reported that as of Tuesday, they have logged 1,105 probable and confirmed cases of H1N1 flu in 44 states, with 403 confirmed cases in 38 states. The median age for those with the virus is 16 years old, with 62 percent of the confirmed cases in children under age 18.

Officials at Park City High School said students "won't be penalized academically if circumstances prevent them from returning" to school today, because the officials had originally announced school would be closed until next Monday. Students will be given reasonable time to make up missed assignments when they return, the officials said in a statement.

"School buildings and buses have been sanitized. District officials will continue to monitor the situation and communicate with local public-health officials," the statement said.

The Judge Memorial boys soccer team was cleared to participate in a UHSAA 3A soccer playoff game Tuesday night. Officials at both Catholic schools said the school days missed will not have to be made up, and a prom scheduled for Saturday night at Judge will take place as planned.

Redwood Elementary will have no further restrictions on school-sponsored activities or events, according to Granite District communications director Ben Horsley. "A telephone message and a letter in English and Spanish will be sent to parents notifying them of the reopening of the school.

According to the CDC:

Students, faculty or staff members with influenza-like illness (fever with a cough or sore throat) should stay home and not attend school or go into the community except to seek medical care for at least seven days, even if symptoms resolve sooner.

Students, faculty and staff members who are still sick seven days after they become ill should continue to stay home from school until at least 24 hours after symptoms have resolved.

Students, faculty and staff members who appear to have an influenza-like illness at arrival or become ill during the school day should be isolated promptly in a room separate from other students and sent home.

Parents and guardians should monitor their school-aged children, and faculty and staff should self-monitor every morning for symptoms of influenza-like illness.Key developments

A Texas woman with chronic health problems is the second U.S. death and the first of a U.S. resident.

U.S. officials are no longer recommending schools close because the virus has turned out to be milder than initially feared.

U.S. confirmed or probable cases tally more than 1,000 in 44 states.

EMAIL: carrie@desnews.com