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Universities Waiting to See How Bad Flu Will Be

Universities are accustomed to having a large number of students in a confined space. What they aren't used to dealing with is a pandemic that is taking many of their students out of class and landing them in campus health clinics.

Health centers at the 11 public universities across the state are seeing hundreds of cases of swine flu or H1N1. Fortunately, the cases have been relatively mild and not resulted in any deaths. But it is stretching the resources of some universities.

“All appointments are full. Every day we are seeing our maximum capacity of students,” said David Bujack, Emergency Management Coordinator at Florida State. “So far we have not sacrificed any of our other health services; however, we are right there at the brink.”

Bujack and other state university system officials were briefing the Florida Board of Governors in Tampa on Thursday about the potential logistical problems that significant outbreaks of swine flu could present and how various institutions were prepping for bigger outbreaks.

“If you have a class of a thousand students, and 30 to 40 percent get sick, you have to help 300 to 400 students make up the work and that becomes a logistical problem,” said Joe Glover, the provost of the University of Florida.

At UF, officials are outfitting larger lecture classrooms with technology that will allow lectures to be recorded so students can hear a professor's class that they have missed due to illness. The project cost $150,000 to outfit ten lecture halls. Glover said it would be far too expensive to do that with all of the classrooms; however, he said it would be more manageable for teachers with smaller classes to help their students catch up on missed work.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has indicated that Florida has had a higher number of cases than many other states throughout the country.

But the state has given no official guidance on how universities or public K-12 schools should deal with any outbreaks. Health officials have repeatedly told the public to simply use common sense: wash your hands, stay home if you are sick and sneeze into your arm.

A vaccine for H1N1 is slated to be available come October, according to the state Department of Health. At-risk populations will have initial access to the vaccine. This would include pregnant women, caregivers for children younger than six months, and health care or medical personnel.

University System Chancellor Frank Brogan questioned and warned universities to be careful of the public policy impact that dealing with swine flu could create in terms of panicking families of Florida students.

“The message that is being sent is, there's a hurricane coming because it looks like one. The reaction to that is significant,” Brogan said.

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