Colleges wary of flu outbreak

By Thomas Garcia and Clarence Plank: Freedom New Mexico

Local college campuses are taking the threat of H1N1 flu (swine flu) seriously.

Eastern New Mexico University, Clovis Community College and Mesalands Community College are already preparing students to try and minimize any outbreaks.

“Primarily for us it is going to be educational, telling people how to avoid contagion, getting the symptoms out there,” ENMU Vice President Judith Haislett said. “We’ve done posters, flyers, home meetings, just a large across-the-board advertising (campaign).

“We’re sending letters to students’ parents, that if a student becomes ill with H1N1 flu, it would be a good idea to take them home.”

Mesalands officials issued a memo with prevention tips and information about the H1N1 virus on Tuesday. The memo is being circulated throughout the college, said Aaron Kennedy, dean of student services.

“The college is concerned about the H1N1 virus,” Kennedy said. “We are encouraging everyone to cover their mouth when they sneeze and wash their hands regularly.”

Haislett said those students with symptoms who can’t leave campus will be asked to stay out of classes and isolate themselves for three to five days.

Eastern is also handing out flu kits, which include a face mask, handy wipes and a disposable thermometer.

“The disposable thermometer is so if you’re at class or work you can take your temperature and decide if you need to go home,” Haislett said.

“Faculty is looking into ways of adapting their classes, knowing there will be some absences and also they might be absent for a little while,” she said.

ENMU has also increased nursing staff just in case.

“The real problem with any flu is not the virus itself, but the complications that could follow that are the more high risk,” Haislett said. “Such as pneumonia or something like that. We are telling our students to stay calm; this is not the plague. But at the same time we have to do everything we can to stay healthy.”

ENMU is providing the general flu vaccine to students for free. It will do the same for the H1N1 flu vaccine once it becomes available, possibly late November or December, Haislett said.

Kennedy said Mesalands will offer the flu vaccine to its students on Oct. 13. He said the college will offer the H1N1 vaccine to their students once it is available.

Kennedy said the college is purchasing alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which will be placed on the desk of every instructor.

“We are also posting information and recommendation for those students that have or may get the flu virus,” Kennedy said.

Clovis Community College Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness David Caffey said the college is distributing brochures and placing hand-washing caution signs in restrooms for employees and students.

CCC is working with the state public health department to get information out about the vaccine when it becomes available.

“We’re interested in getting that information and passing it along,” Caffey said. “Even if we are involved in becoming a distribution site of course we would want to do that.”

Another strategy CCC could be looking into involves the campus data system.

Should a student become ill, the plan would enable the student to e-mail their professor to keep up with assignments. The system could also notify students if a class were canceled due to illnesses.

Julissa Melendez of Causey, a student who works in the office of Student Affairs at ENMU, said she is concerned about H1N1 flu.

“I really don’t want to get it, it is kinda scary,” Melendez said. “So I’m glad the university is being hands-on about it because this is where I spend most of my time. I think it is dangerous.”

Melendez said Haislett has held many meetings about H1N1 flu, adding “I feel like we are very prepared for it.”

ENMU students who still haven’t received a flu kit can pick one up at the Campus Union Building front desk, the information center or the Health Center in the Administration Building.