Prepare for Flu Season
With the peak of flu season on the way, it’s time to review your K-12 school, college, or university’s pandemic response procedures and prepare for the potential of simultaneous COVID-19 and flu virus outbreaks. Whether your semester is in-person, online, or a hybrid, craft a flexible pandemic plan that encompasses all types of diseases.
Consider the following aspects when revising your institution’s pandemic plan. For detailed recommendations, refer to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS’) guidance for schools and child care providers.
An annual flu vaccination, recommended for everyone 6 months old and older, is the best way to protect against the flu. Consider offering flu vaccinations to students and staff, perhaps in partnership with local public health departments.
Continue to encourage all eligible students and staff to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters. Flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time.
Some institutions may choose to require flu vaccinations for students or staff. When deciding whether to require, rather than just encourage, flu vaccinations, review:
- Relevant CDC guidance
- State law for exemption requirements ─ all states require the availability of a medical exemption to vaccination, but other possible exemptions include religious and philosophical beliefs
Contain the Flu Virus
Incorporate a flexible sick leave policy in your plan. Advise staff and students that if they know through testing that they have the flu and not COVID, they should stay home for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever without the use of fever-reducing medicine. For institutions with housing, decide whether to provide separate facilities for flu-infected students and staff and establish policies for transporting ill people. Provide sufficient and accessible infection-prevention supplies such as:
- Alcohol-based hand hygiene products
- Trash receptacles
Reinforce Your Pandemic Response Team
While some institutions may have a COVID-specific response team, they also need a team to monitor and respond to all potential pandemics, including the flu. This can be the same as the COVID-specific response team as long as the members have the ability to monitor COVID-19 and all additional potential pandemics.
Ensure that your pandemic response team includes personnel from:
- Health services
- Food services
- Academic affairs
- Legal counsel
Team members should have defined roles and responsibilities for preparedness, response, and recovery planning. Identify backup personnel if team members become infected or are otherwise unable to serve.
Prepare for School and Program closures
The severity of your community’s illness and infection rates of a school or campus community will affect whether closing is advisable. Plans should include responses to different outbreak scenarios and factor in the level of public concern, the impact of absenteeism, and staffing shortages.
Other issues to consider include:
- Public event cancellation
- Public transportation closures
- Contingency plans for students who depend on student housing and food services (including international students)
- Maintaining research laboratories, particularly those using animals
- Stockpiling of nonperishable food and equipment
Provide Clear Communications
With your Public Affairs or Communications department, keep members of your campus community informed of the health threat, your institution’s response, and their responsibilities. If your institution has a crisis communications team, gather members to develop a plan for keeping relevant audiences informed.
Apprise students and employees about flu symptoms, preventive measures, potential for contagion, and confirmed cases within the school community as well as changes to the campus operating status. Use and test many methods of communication, such as your:
- Alert notification systems
- Telephone hotlines
- Text messages
- Bulk email systems
- Local radio or TV stations
Plan Continuity of Operations
Ensure the continuity of essential operations, including:
- Housekeeping and food service for student housing
Develop and disseminate alternative procedures to ensure continuity of your academic program through distance instruction, emailed lessons and assignments, or other means.
Careful planning and preparation will help your institution protect its community during this flu season which is made more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Public Health Organization
Sample Response Plans
University of Houston: Pandemic Influenza Plan
About the Author
Melanie Bennett, Esq.
ARM-E, Senior Risk Management Counsel
In her role on UE’s Risk Research team, Melanie dives into timely topics affecting education. Her areas of expertise include pandemic response, protecting minors, enterprise risk management (ERM), technology accessibility, and athletics. Prior to joining UE, she interned at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.