So far, this year’s flu season is looking pretty unpleasant. It started 5 weeks earlier than anticipated and, as rough as it is so far, has not yet peaked. News reports are filled with stories of the worst flu season in a decade, including the news that there have been 18 flu-related pediatric deaths so far this season.
So, with such grim reports, how do we protect our staff and the children in our care? Although I realize vaccinations are controversial, that is the Centers for Disease Control’s first recommendation. The one bit of good news from this year’s flu season is that the vaccine developed for this season is so far proving to be effective for the strains of flu reported in the vast majority of cases. In our program, we cover the cost of flu shots for any of our staff members who want to receive them. At about $20 per staff member, we find this to be money well-spent.
The next piece of protection is making sure that you have an illness exclusion policy that you implement fully. Simply stated, sick people cannot be in your program or they will make others sick. Your policy must clearly explain which symptoms are exclusionary and when individuals can return to the program after being excluded. When I send a child home, I explain clearly to the parent when the child can return; for example, if a child goes home with a fever at 2:00 in the afternoon on Monday, the child will not be eligible to return until at least Wednesday. This exclusion policy must apply to program staff as well. Having sick staff is no different than having sick children in the program.
The final piece is simple implementation of a health policy and a cleaning and sanitation policy. These policies will remind staff and children how and when to wash their hands, to appropriately cover their coughs and sneezes, to promptly dispose of tissues, and to keep the various surfaces in the program clean and sanitary.
These simple steps will greatly reduce the risk of spread of illness in your program.