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As reported by The Hartford Courant, May 1, 2009.

Two Schools Reopen, But State Epidemiologist Warns of Many Swine Flu Cases

By David Owens and Arielle Levin Becker

There was encouraging news in Connecticut on the swine flu front Thursday — suspected cases in East Haddam and Wethersfield were ruled out, and schools there were due to reopen this morning.

But the state had yet to hear from federal authorities whether six probable cases were, in fact, swine flu. And at an informational forum before the legislature's public health committee, Dr. Matthew Cartter, the state epidemiologist, said we should expect that the swine flu will be at least as severe as a typical seasonal flu, in which 15 percent to 25 percent of the population might get sick and about 35,000 people die nationwide.

"Conservatively, we should plan for something as bad as what we go through every year," he said.

But the course that the outbreak will take remains unknown, Cartter said. It could develop into a pandemic, remain less severe or become severe in some places and not others, he said.

Meanwhile, state health officials said Thursday that two students at Fairfield University and a Glastonbury resident have what they describe as "probable" cases of swine flu.

Yale University's health service is also treating four people for influenza A and has sent samples to the state Department of Public Health for testing, said Yale spokesman Bill Hathaway.

Neither of the Fairfield students reported recent travel. Tests done by the state Department of Public Health show that the students have an influenza A virus that is not a regular seasonal strain, according to a statement from the governor's office.

The samples from the Fairfield University students have been submitted to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test whether they are positive for swine flu. The department is still awaiting results from the CDC to confirm if the three probable cases announced previously are swine flu. No confirmed cases have been identified in Connecticut.

As of Thursday evening, the number of probable cases in Connecticut was six. None of the victims required hospitalization, and all were recovering, officials said. The suspected case in Glastonbury is in an adult who recently traveled to California, not Mexico.

In the Yale cases, the four people live off campus, are described as only mildly ill and are receiving treatment at their homes. As a precaution, they are being treated with antiviral medications, Hathaway said. The university did not say whether they are students. Hathaway also had no information about whether they had recently traveled to Mexico.

Schools will reopen today in Wethersfield and East Haddam but remain closed in Vernon. In Granby, Wells Road School remains closed, and in Waterbury the Rotella Magnet School remains closed. In Cromwell, a school bus driver who had recently returned from a trip to Mexico was pulled from her route and her bus removed from service so that it could be cleaned.

Cliff Gibson, chief operating officer of Dattco, Cromwell's school bus contractor, said that the driver did not show any signs of illness, but that company officials decided to remove her from service as a precaution.

"She comes in contact with a lot of children," Gibson said. "This is just a precaution at this point." Gibson said he believed that the driver would continue to be paid. She will return to work once it's clear that she is not infected with the flu.

Cromwell Superintendent Matt A. Bisceglia said he thought that the bus company's decision was "prudent."

School officials are carefully watching calendars as they consider closing schools. Wethersfield will be able to hold graduation ceremonies and close schools as scheduled, on June 23, despite the two-day closure, Superintendent Michael Kohlhagen said. The district has taken other steps related to the risk of swine flu, including canceling field trips outside of Wethersfield, and canceling sporting events in districts where schools are closed or there are suspected or confirmed swine flu cases.

High school athletic directors are also coming up with plans to deal with school closings in the case of possible flu exposures.

Mike Savage, executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, said that a contingency plan to deal with swine flu's impact on high school athletic contests, such as postponements, forfeitures, shortened seasons and tournament qualifications, has been formulated.

"We're in the process of informing our members," he said. "The plan is in the hands of our board of directors, which total about 15. We'll await feedback from them and may still tweak it a bit." Savage said that he expects the CIAC's contingency plan to be finalized and released today.

At Thursday's informational forum, Cartter and other officials from the state departments of public health and emergency management and homeland security outlined plans for a potential pandemic, including coordinating federal, state and local efforts and receiving and distributing medication and medical supplies from a national stockpile.

In response to a legislator's question, Health Commissioner Dr. J. Robert Galvin spoke of the 17,000 or so seasonal workers who come into the state every year, many from Mexico and the Caribbean. Many live in barrack-style facilities and receive medical care ranging from fair to nonexistent, Galvin said. Galvin said that the state will work with Dr. Bruce Gould, a UConn Health Center professor who runs clinics for migrant workers, to ensure proper public health surveillance.

Galvin said that state officials have also been in contact with both casinos, which also employ seasonal and short-time workers, about swine flu, which he said they are aware of and trying to avoid. "An outbreak would shut them down," he said.

Galvin also said that some school superintendents have raised questions about whether to send students on annual trips to New York or other places. "We don't see any reason not to engage in these activities," he said.