Maryland officials closed four schools Friday and canceled their extracurricular activities for up to 14 days based on a new federal directive for schools with probable cases of swine flu.
Gov. Martin O'Malley and Dr. Fran Phillips, the state's deputy health secretary, announced the directive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at Maryland's Swine Flu Command Center in Baltimore. Three more probable cases, including two students, were disclosed Friday, meaning there are 11 probable cases. There are no confirmed cases.
"It is quite likely that these two students and perhaps others are being exposed to this virus here in Maryland," Phillips said Friday. "That puts us at a heightened level of vigilance."
O'Malley signed an executive order Friday afternoon declaring a public health emergency for the state after the CDC issued its directive to all 50 governors about 1:30 p.m.
The school closings are the strongest measure taken so far in Maryland as a precaution against swine flu. It was the first time a school has been closed in Maryland because of concerns over the virus. Nearly 300 schools have closed in communities across the country.
"The strategies are to slow the spread of the virus in the community," O'Malley said. He added the CDC is "erring on the side of caution."
Rockville High School in Montgomery County, Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County, Folger McKinsey Elementary School in Anne Arundel County and Montpelier Elementary School in Prince George's County all have at least one student with a probable case of swine flu.
"The important message here is that we do need to create what we've been discussing about the social distancing and, until we know further, that's trying to maintain six feet away from someone's coughing or sneezing," Dr. Ulder Tillman, Montgomery County's health officer said.
About 75 samples of flu-like illness have been tested this week in Maryland as of Thursday, according to Department of Health & Mental Hygiene spokesman David Paulson.
Phillips said the state continues to receive samples from people who could have the illness, including from faculty and students at the four closed schools. She said there were 43 samples to be tested Friday afternoon and over the weekend.
"The numbers are continuing to grow and that's what's being seen around the country," Phillips said.
No one has required hospitalization in Maryland from the illness, and none of the cases has been confirmed yet by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State officials believe the first confirmations could come this weekend from Atlanta.
The CDC has indicated plans to send kits to state health departments, so state laboratories can conduct the tests on their own to save time. Phillips said Maryland had been expecting to receive the kits on Friday, but they had not arrived yet and it was unclear when they would. Phillips said Maryland was prepared to use the kits as soon as they arrived.
An 8-year-old student at Montpelier Elementary School in Laurel is the latest probable case. The student did not travel to an infected area and had no known contact with someone who did, leading officials to close the school.
A special needs student at Rockville High School with a probable case of swine flu also has no link to travel to any infected areas worldwide. The student was well on Monday, but developed some symptoms Tuesday, so the child's mother took the child to a health care provider. The preliminary results were a probable case of the H1N1 virus.
School officials were made aware of the case at about 6:30 p.m. Thursday and made the decision to close the school.
"Because the student is a special needs student and can't follow the message we've said about always covering your mouth or nose with a tissue and throwing it away, and wash your hands frequently, we felt it was important to take this action," Montgomery County health officer Dr. Ulder J. Tillman said.
It is the job of health officials now to determine how the student acquired the virus and to make sure it doesn't spread.
"This is not to say that we want the students just not to go to school," Ulder said. "We also want to get the message out that as much as possible, please stay home. I know that is challenging for a high school ... but we want to try to stay as much as possible on top of this issue."
Several other schools have been put on alert due to potential exposure. They include Takoma Park Elementary, Westland Middle School and Einstein High School. These schools will remain open.
Maryland's swine flu hot line is now running seven days a week, 8 a.m.- 8 p.m.: call 240-777-4200.
Another option: 877-MDFLU4U (633-5848) has been activated as a statewide toll-free information line to answer questions residents may have about the swine flu outbreak. The service will operate between the hours of 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. In addition, DHMH will accept swine flu questions by email at email@example.com.
2 GW Students Probable Swine Flu Cases in DC
D.C.'s first two probable cases of swine flu are female students at George Washington University, according to D.C. health officials.
The students, freshmen and roommates, both are recovering. Their symptoms were considered to be mild, a health official said. Neither student was hospitalized. They are being treated with the antiviral drug Relenza.
One of the students went to a travel area of concern and she then passed it on to another student. They were moved from their dorm rooms to private rooms for comfort and to limit exposure, according to the university.
Dr. John Williams, the school's vice president for health affairs, said students who came into contact with the girls were told to contact university officials if they feel ill. School officials said they expect more cases at the university, and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said he expects more cases in D.C.
The city has sent test samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation and expects results Saturday.
Dr. Pierre Vigilance, director of the D.C. Department of Health, said as of Friday the city had received 28 influenza samples, including the cases of the two students. Vigilance said the city is in the process of running tests for the remaining samples.
Classes are over at GW, so there are not as many precautions that the school needs to take, according to a health official. Exam week is next week.
Previous Cases in Maryland
There are now 11 probable cases of swine flu in Maryland.
One of the probable cases announced Thursday is a 53-year-old man from Montgomery County. The other is a 40-year-old woman from Baltimore County.
The Montgomery County man had traveled to Mexico on business. He became ill on April 20 but has since recovered. He was not hospitalized, but rested at home. His family members have not contracted the illness, but the man is related to an employee of Montgomery County Public Schools, according to Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Ulder J. Tillman, so the county health department is working closely with the school system to take necessary precautions.
The Baltimore County woman also had what officials called a "positive" travel history. She was hospitalized with flu-like symptoms.
It was not immediately clear if the Montgomery County man is the same person who works at the World Bank who came down with a probable case of swine flu. Health officials would not comment on any connection between the two.
However, three people in the Montgomery County Public Schools system were asked to leave their schools early on Thursday because they had contact with the World Bank employee. Two students and a teacher were sent home from Takoma Park Elementary School, Westland Middle School and Einstein High School.
"There is no case, there is no symptoms, and the only thing that these three people had in common is that they were with somebody who has a probable -- not a confirmed -- case, but even so, with the abundance of caution, we're taking all the normal procedures, because again, this is a very emotional issue to deal with," Superintendent Dr. Jerry Weast said.
The World Bank announced earlier Thursday that a staff member in the District has been preliminarily diagnosed with swine flu. The infection is believed to have resulted from exposure while on business travel in Mexico between April 13-18, before Mexican health authorities and the World Health Organization recognized and announced the epidemic. The preliminary diagnosis was made Thursday.
On Friday, the World Bank said all employees who were told to work from home because of the proximity to the flu were being allowed back to the office. There were about 80 employees in all who were told to stay away.
None of the six probable cases announced Wednesday were confirmed Thursday, as tests were still being conducted. Three of the original six cases are located in Baltimore County and three are in Anne Arundel County. Two of the Baltimore County cases are related. A family member had traveled to Mexico, officials said. The third Baltimore County case involves someone who traveled to the Caribbean.
In Anne Arundel County, all three cases involve one family. They did not travel to an infected area of the world, but another family member did -- to Mexico.
Two of the cases involve students. One attended Folger McKinsey Elementary School in Anne Arundel County and the other attended Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County.
Virginia Swine Flu Update
Virginia health officials confirmed two cases of the H1N1 virus in the state Thursday night. One patient is an adult male from eastern Virginia, and the second is an adult female from the central part of the state.
The patients are not students, according to officials. Both had traveled to Mexico, had mild illnesses, and are recovering well. Neither required hospitalization.
Area health departments have set up phone numbers that people can call to get information about the swine flu and answer any questions that residents may have:
- Maryland: (240) 777-4200
- Virginia: (877) ASK-VDH3 (275-8343)
- D.C.: 311