Florida Prepares for Swine Flu Outbreak

The head of Florida’s pandemic committee says the state should prepare for a quarter of its workforce to be out sick at any given time with the H1N1 flu.

With no sign of slowing down, Florida has 31 swine flu fatalities and 3,321 confirmed cases, and officials don’t know if the virus will be stronger in the fall than it was in the spring and summer as it makes its second wave around the world.

Scott Peterson, the state official in charge of planning for the pandemic, said Monday that including IT sectors in the crisis management meetings for pandemics like swine flu is absolutely crucial to keep the government fully functional.

“We make sure that every task we do has at least a primary and two secondary people who are ready to take on that task…. additionally we try to make sure that those tasks are trained outside of a normal area of expertise,” he said.

McPherson said the meetings aren’t to spread panic, but to present an honest assessment of where the state needs to prepare.

“In a pandemic we're steering by our own wake. It's very difficult to get proactive. It's very difficult to be forward facing … because you're always looking at what the statistics were last week or the week before that,” he said.

Miami-Dade school district is working on a multi-platform communication strategy with parents to make sure everyone is on the same page with how to deal with an unsually high number of illnesses in school.

The Miami school system -- the fourth-largest public school system in the country -- is alert to the challenge of a virus that targets the young, and it has been receiving reports from the pediatric community on the spread seen in summer camps and daycare centers throughout the summer.

“With the way things are going in the economy right now our parents are not as likely to keep their children at home because that means they might have to miss work as well,” said Deborah Montilla, Miami-Dade School District director. “We're really trying to reinforce the fact that in order to protect everybody we need students with certain symptoms to stay home from school.”

Additionally, the superintendent is sending out robocalls to parents alerting them that they are expected to pick their children up if they become sick at school, and notifying them of a network of primary doctors and clinics that are accessible for swine flu testing and treatment

They are also loading up on sanitizer sprays and cleaning supplies to be available in classrooms, bathrooms and locker rooms.

At what point will the district decide to close schools? Currently, that is a worst-case scenario they don’t think they’ll reach, but school officials remain at the direction of the CDC, Florida State Department of Health officals and Miami-Dade Health Department.

Now state officials are trying to re-focus attention and message on 3 points of hygiene:

1. Washing hands

2. Covering coughs and sneezes

3. Staying home when sick.

If vigilant in these areas, officials hope they can keep a lid on the number of additional cases.

“You have to prepare your families, you have to know how you are going to be able to take care of your loved ones,” says McPherson. “You have to treat this situation as a developing situation and you have to treat this very seriously.”