TAMPA (CBS TAMPA) – Less than half of schools in the US have adequate plans or strategies to deal with the next pandemic.
Health disasters and infectious diseases can be easily made worse by schools because of the amount of kids in a confined area for so long each day, according to a new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“School preparedness for disasters and infectious disease emergencies is essential, yet many schools are lacking in adequate plans,” the researchers wrote. “U.S. schools must continue to address gaps in infectious disease emergency planning, including developing better plans, coordinating these plans with local and regional disaster response agency plans, and testing the plans through disaster drills and exercises.”
There are 55 million US children enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade, attending 17000 public school districts and 29000 private schools. Children spend a large part of their time in school, so whether a large-scale crisis occurs during school hours, before or after school, or off the school campus, the school district plays an important role in the unfolding of events.
Eighty-five percent of schools had a written disaster plan as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the researchers reported in the American Journal of Infection Control. Plans for health emergencies were particularly lacking.
Fewer than half of the plans specifically addressed pandemic preparedness. And just over 40 percent of schools had updated their plans since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, which spread through 214 countries, killed more than 18,000 people, and hit school-aged children hardest.
Most schools also failed to report cases of flu-like symptoms or other worrisome illnesses to, which could hinder efforts to detect outbreaks early.
Some models indicate that a future pandemic could make 90 million people sick and cause more than 209,000 deaths in the United States alone. Yet, just 20 percent of schools have stockpiled alcohol-based hand rub, according to the survey’s results.
To assess school readiness for bioterrorist attacks or flu outbreaks, the researchers at St. Louis University Medical Center surveyed about 2,000 nurses in 26 states who worked with kids of all ages, ranging from elementary to high school.