H1N1 Update

August 17, 2009

To the Campus Community:

When the H1N1 virus first surfaced last April, several schools closed across the country and numerous large gatherings were restructured or cancelled.  We began our planning for the H1N1 virus with those same scenarios in mind.  However, as time progressed and health officials learned more about the effects of this virus, the focus began to change.  The New Hampshire Department of Health & Human Services now expects that, on a state level, “institutions of higher education will not be routinely recommended to close . . . on the basis of a diagnosis of suspected, probable or confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza.  Any closing of an institution will be handled on a case by case basis.”  If the virus or the infection rates should change dramatically, we may need to close, and we would be remiss if we did not plan for that possibility.  However, it appears more likely that we will remain in operation, but should expect increased absences as the season progresses.

State, federal, and world health officials expect the H1N1 virus to continue its spread and expect it to affect schools and universities well into the fall and winter flu season.  Individuals from ages five through twenty-four continue to have the highest infection rate.  Employees’ school-aged children and our students on campus are the most likely to be infected.  Estimates vary, but projections suggest that we could experience absence rates over 25% at any one time, both with our students and with our faculty and staff.  For this reason, faculty must plan for how they will work with students who are ill and staying away from classes while they recover.  Supervisors must plan for how they will continue departmental operations when colleagues are ill or must stay home to care for a sick family member.

If we have an identified case of the H1N1 virus on the campus, we will work directly with the healthcare provider and state public health officials.  Our response will depend on many factors, such as whether or not the affected individual lives on or off campus.  The offices of Residential Life, Environmental Health & Safety, and Student Affairs are working together to finalize plans for providing assistance to students who are infected with the H1N1 virus and cannot recuperate at home.  Our goal is to provide services to ill students as needed, without compromising the health of others who may share the same residence hall or apartment.

Plymouth State University has continued its involvement with the regional Public Health Network throughout the summer.  Tammy Hill serves as one of the key members of the coordination team that will assist the campus, the towns of Plymouth and Holderness, and eight other communities in any public health emergency.  Recently the network’s activities have been centered around the expected fall return of H1N1 and the potential release of a vaccine.  Those efforts will include a regional tabletop exercise to be held on the campus at the end of August.  The entire regional team is working diligently to make sure that we are ready to respond appropriately in the event that flu vaccines are released in mass quantities and/or the virus causes widespread problems.

A vaccine for the H1N1 virus is now in production and clinical trials have begun both in the U.S. and abroad.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) currently predict an October release date.  During the early stages of the release, the CDC will determine who should receive the vaccine and when.   The final direction will be determined by the number of vaccines available at any one time.  In addition to the H1N1 vaccine, the seasonal flu vaccine is slated for release in early fall, which is earlier than usual.  At this time we do not know how or exactly when any of the vaccines will be released or if we will be expected to open mass vaccination clinics on campus.  Until then, we will continue to work with the Public Health Network, our neighboring towns, and state and federal health officials to insure that we are ready to deal with whatever situation occurs.

Our foremost concern is the wellbeing of our community.  We will continue to communicate to you information and plans as they become available, and a campus website will have the most recent information.  We will also continue to provide public education messages and to supply items necessary to allow students and employees to do their part to stay healthy and reduce the spread of the virus.

This situation will require all of us to work together in ways we may not have experienced, and I appreciate the care with which the campus and regional teams have approached preparation.  We will update you again as the situation progresses.  In the meantime, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my office or Tammy Hill, the Manager of Environmental Health and Safety at Plymouth State.  Her e-mail is tjhill2@plymouth.edu.

Sara Jayne Steen