Almost a sanitarium

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(A post for new teachers and other interested parties.)

Oregon school pumpkin carving party suspected in norovirus outbreak

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – A pre-Halloween pumpkin carving party may have caused a norovirus outbreak that has sickened more than 100 students, teachers and staff at an Oregon Catholic school, a public health official said on Wednesday.

Officials may never be able to definitively determine the cause of the outbreak, which prompted O’Hara Catholic School in Eugene, Oregon, to cancel three days of classes.

Eduhonesty: You can’t prevent everything. This article also helps make the prohibition against bringing homemade treats to school a little more understandable. You put a bunch of kids together in a small, closed space, and periodically some microbe or another will sweep through the school halls.


I visited old middle school colleagues last week. Almost every teacher I talked with sounded obviously ill. I actually took a shower when I got home. It was that bad.

Last year, I remember being sick during much of October, November and December. Some years my immune system has been ramped up enough to duck all the mystery ailments stalking the halls, but last year my immune system decided to go out on a sabbatical or vacation for the first half-year.

If you are teaching in the northern states and have windows that open, you are probably shutting those windows now for the late fall, winter and early spring. Suddenly, the air you are circulating teems with bugs. Kids sniff and sniff, getting Kleenexes as the morning wears on. Kids with shiny, red faces and even teary eyes sit down to work, often more quietly than usual.

My advice for new teachers:

♦ That kid with the red cheeks and shiny eyes? Feel his forehead. Get him out of the room as fast as possible if he feels hot. Send him to the nurse regardless. It takes one kid to start the flu moving through your room.

♦ Keep hand sanitizer in the room. Teach the kids to use it. If you walk around the room borrowing your students supplies while you help them, make sure you squirt your own hands regularly. Those pencils can be sticks of doom.

♦ If you are sick, don’t let it get you down. You’ll be better soon, and teachers do seem to develop pretty strong immune responses over time. I’ve had whole years when I watched wave after wave of kids going down and still managed not to get ill.

♦ Stock up on Kleenex because you will need a fair amount in the next few months. You will always need Kleenex. With luck, students are supplying tissues, but, if not, watch for sales.

♦ Take a few minutes to discuss hygiene. Class reminders help. If a kid sneezes into her hand, remind her to use her elbow instead. I’d let students get sanitizer or tissues without raising their hands, too, after having pointed out to the class that this freedom is a privilege that can be revoked if classwork is interrupted. If open tissue season seems like too much movement for your situation, you might extend this privilege to the kids who obviously have colds, at least for a day or two.

♦ After students leave a class, Clorox wipes or a similar product can be used to clean the desks of obviously sick students who are not sick enough to be sent home. I know that may sound like too much extra work on top of everything else going on at this time of year, but think about Danny’s coughing on that desk for 55 minutes. Would you want to sit at that desk? The boy or girl who sits in that desk next needs your help.

♦ Gas masks are always a good idea. I recommend World War I vintage especially. (O.K., I admit this post is getting near the top and maybe a bit over the top. But I think those sick people in Japan who walk around in masks are doing the right thing, at least when they have the flu. In the U.S., you won’t be able to wear those masks without looking wacko, though.)

♦ My last piece of advice: Depending on your heating situation, you might want to open a window. My school sometimes overheats during the winter, depending on what room a teacher has been given, and my healthiest years have been those where I kept the windows open all year, even if just a crack. Students think better in a cooler room too.