H1N1 has arrived in our little city. Who knows when exactly, maybe the county health department. They have been active in keeping the community informed, and the school community in particular, due to the unusual threat the disease poses to younger people. So we know it's "here"-- meaning out there in the far reaches of our city. It's "here" in terms of being the subject of reports in the local newspaper. It's "here", but not where I live. My family is safe from the threat, I think to myself.
Monday a missive arrived by email telling us that the regular updates on the disease's progress would cease. It explained that cases had been reported from every school in our district and at every grade level. I guess we were to consider ourselves notified and were to take every precaution against acquiring/spreading the disease. That means H1N1 is at our school. It is "here", as in sharing the same building with my children.
The arrival of this disease has mostly done little to effect our neighborhood. Sure the topic of playground conversation has switched to the flu vaccine and whether or not it's a good idea to get the live vaccine or not or whether to even get a vaccine at all. Even in the conversation the tone is one of guarded optimism. H1N1 is "here" in a still sort of "out there" kind of way. We go about our business, keep to our usual routines. Nothing changes.
Until this afternoon. Another email arrives, this time from our grade school. 24 children were absent today, 18 with flu symptoms, 10 of them from one classroom. In fact, that particular classroom had a total of 14 absent children - half of the class. A fifth grade class. The fifth graders just took an overnight trip together earlier this week. My daughter is in fifth grade. The flu is "here", as in affecting her classmates and friends. The flu is no longer a report in the newspaper or a statistic from the health department.
I'm worried. Yes, more than likely most, if not all, of these children (and any others who catch it) will weather the flu unharmed. But...the threat is now here, not out "there". I find it chilling. It's chilling to hear my daughter report that they are required to wash their hands every time they leave their classroom*. It's chilling to think of so many children sick at the same time. It's chilling to think of even the remotest possiblity that our school might have to close for a brief time like one area high school has.
Forget the skeletons and ghouls and spiders. This Halloween season, the scariest thing here in our city is the dreaded flu virus. People just might start wearing masks a little bit early this year.
*This is not at all a commentary on our school's efforts to keep the kids healthy. That they are making the kids wash so frequently isn't chilling. That they have to do so is.