Flu absenteeism affecting businesses, schools

Grant D. Crawford | Daily Press

School Nurse Heather Jackson checks Regan Jackson's temperature at Heritage Elementary School.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — An especially debilitating influenza virus continues to plague Cherokee County, and the accompanying absenteeism is causing difficulty for some businesses and schools.

In Oklahoma, there have been 92 influenza-associated deaths since Sept. 1, 2017. In Cherokee County, 31 people were hospitalized for influenza between Sept. 1, 2017, and Jan. 30, 2018.

The viral infection has also taken a toll on an array of different businesses and institutions in Tahlequah, some more than others.

"The flu season has been rough on us," said Al Soto, owner of The Drip in downtown Tahlequah. "We've probably had 95 percent of our staff go out sick. I can't think of one person who didn't get sick at The Drip."

Since many people need their coffee to kickstart their day, the show must go on, forcing Soto to make special arrangements to keep the shop open.

"I have hired a couple people in that time, but what's been nice is that it's all been spread out and not everyone was sick at the same time," said Soto. "We also had one guy that I had to fill in for. It's possible people are getting other things. I don't think it's just the flu."

The nurses' office at Heritage Elementary School is usually pretty busy during the flu season. Nurse Heather Jackson said this flu season has been difficult, but this year hasn't hit the student population nearly as hard as it did last year.

"We have a virus going around that's mimicking the flu also, so that's making it a little more difficult," said Jackson. "If [students] are complaining of a headache and they're aching all over, I'll check their temp. Even if they don't have a fever, I'll usually go ahead and send them home, just because I've had some kids who have shown a couple of symptoms with no fever, and then they do end up getting diagnosed with the flu."

Jackson has sent 32 people home this flu season, three of whom were staff members. Teachers do take measures to lessen their chances of contracting the virus, but that doesn't mean they won't.

"They're in that confined space most of the day," said Jackson. "The teachers are touching the papers, pencils and everything the kids touch. If the students aren't covering their coughs and sneezes and washing their hands, there is that potential."

Elizabeth Barrington, a paraprofessional at Cherokee Elementary School, has had a difficult past few days, as she came down with flu-like symptoms over the weekend.

"Sunday morning when I woke up, I had developed a dry, hacking cough and felt achy in my neck, shoulder and back," Barrington said. "I also felt very fatigued and just wanted to sleep."

By Monday night, Barrington said she was in tears from all the discomfort. The illness caused her to miss two days of work, but she's happy it was short-lived.

"Working in an elementary school means that sickness usually makes the rounds with both students and teachers," she said. "It was just my turn."

Preventive measures should help people ward off the flu to some degree. Flu shots, washing hands and covering coughs have helped employees at the Cherokee Nation W. W. Hastings Hospital stay healthy, according to Infection Preventionist Tammy Shaddox.

"We've maybe had a few get it here and there, but our employees are doing great," Shaddox said. "We take those precautions; we wash hands often, we wear gloves and masks when we need to. Like if someone is coughing or sneezing, we put a mask on."

Get help

It's not too late to get a flu shot. There's a table set up at the outpatient pharmacy area in Hastings, where shots are being offered through Friday. Folks can stop by to get the vaccine from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 918-458-3100.

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