Flu precautions ramped up at schools

Ellen Vander Bleek, a junior at Prince of Peace College Preparatory in Clinton, washes her hands. Handwashing is part of the diocesan policy to avoid the H1N1 or seasonal flu and other illnesses. (Contributed photo)

By Anne Marie Amacher

Diocesan schools, religious education and youth ministry programs are stepping up precautions against the flu, at the request of the Davenport Diocese. The precautions are being taken because of increasing absenteeism in schools and children’s higher susceptibility to the flu, diocesan officials said. Parishes are not included in the request.

Deacon Frank Agnoli, diocesan director of liturgy, sent a letter Oct. 16 to administrators, directors of religious education and youth ministers instructing them to implement Step 2 interventions of the flu policy.

Bishop Martin Amos decided to implement the advanced precautions after receiving updates from principals around the diocese and consulting with Mary Wieser, diocesan director of faith formation and superintendent of Catholic schools.

“This step is being taken because of increasing absenteeism in a number of areas,” said Deacon Agnoli, who helped draft the policy. “Even though some of our schools have not experienced a significant outbreak yet, it seems prudent to put these precautions in place in anticipation of a worsening flu season, especially since children seem to be more susceptible, more likely to spread the flu, and more at risk for serious complications.”


Step 2 reinforces the instruction for all sick individuals to stay at home — including clergy, staff and volunteers. Hand-washing stations with hand sanitizers, trash receptacles and tissues should be in place.

The precautions particularly affect the celebration of Mass at schools. Communion is not to be distributed under the form of wine and the host is not to be distributed on the tongue, according to Step 2 interventions. A bow should replace a handshake at the sign of peace and hands are not to be held during recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Priests and other ministers should not shake hands when greeting those attending Mass and holy water in the fonts should be changed at least daily and after each liturgy.

The reason for high absenteeism in schools in various parts of Iowa isn’t always known, Deacon Agnoli said. “Better to assume that most of the absenteeism is due to H1N1 than assume the opposite and be wrong.”

Because it is too early for the seasonal flu and children are at high risk for complications from H1N1 virus, the diocese decided Step 2 interventions were necessary. “We just want to be careful.”

As an additional precaution, sixth-grade vocation days set for Oct. 26 and 27 in diocesan schools have been postponed, said Father Marty Goetz, director of vocations for the diocese.

In consultation with Bishop Amos and Deacon Agnoli, Fr. Goetz decided it would be wise to not bring students from various parts of the diocese together in one place. Instead, Fr. Goetz will schedule visits with sixth-grade classes as soon as possible.

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