Wisconsin Pandemic Influenza Operations
The Wisconsin Pandemic Influenza Operations Plan outlines the following as assumptions for educational institutions:
- In a pandemic, closing schools has been shown to be an effective means of reducing disease spread.
- Closing schools early in a pandemic is more effective than waiting until more than 10 percent of students or teachers have been infected.
- Planning ahead of a pandemic is needed to assure that students of all ages may be safe and receive the services (such as meals) that are normally received through the school system.
- Communication about school closings with school administrators and staff, teachers, students, and the community at large before a pandemic may ease the communication needed at the time of the pandemic and associated school closings.
- Two-way communication (from the schools to the public and vice versa) is necessary before, during, and after a pandemic.
- Since a pandemic may last for many months, some educational services should be provided to students at all levels of education.
- The Internet may not be available for provision of educational services. Hence, alternative methods for providing instruction must be planned.
Regarding legal authority, the plan states that: “In Wisconsin, both the Department of Health and Family Services and local health officers share broad powers to do what is reasonable to prevent, suppress, and control communicable diseases. This includes the power to restrict public gatherings, close schools, and order isolation and quarantine when needed to control an outbreak or epidemic…” Both the Governor and the State Health Officer have the authority to close both public and private schools statewide; local health officers have authority to close schools in their districts.
A community disease prevention plan includes social distancing measures including school closures as a method for reducing the rate of transmission of pandemic influenza. Epidemiological factors used to determine whether to close schools include: (a) the virulence of the spreading novel flu virus, (b) the rapidity of viral circulation in the community, (c) evidence that school-age children are major sources of transmission, (d) the number of people ill in a particular community, (e) rates of absenteeism, and (f) evidence from other areas that school closures may ease community transmission.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Health participates in a communication systems coordinated by Wisconsin Emergency Management to provide information through the state Emergency Operations Center and the Joint Public Information Center. Information and notifications of school closures will be disseminated through this central system to local school districts via media outlet (Wisconsin Pandemic Influenza Operations Plan, 2007).