Coughs and sneezes can be heard around Weber State University’s campus as spring semester rolls into Week 5, and with the recent flu-related death of Brigham Young University professor Delynne Peay, authorities are asking students to be cautions and stay home if feeling ill.
A total of 11 deaths have been recorded so far this flu season, which officially began Sept. 29, 2013. Reports on the Utah Department of Health show 160 flu hospitalizations reported as of Week 51. Officials are now reporting upward of 478 through Jan. 11, with possibly 50 just last week.
Many news outlets are reporting 11 deaths, which include statewide numbers. Amy Carter, registered nurse for communicable disease and epidemiology at the Weber-Morgan Health Department, said that number is probably a minimum.
“In Weber/Morgan counties, which is where I work, there have been five influenza-related deaths,” Carter said. “When they say influenza-related, this means most of the people had started with influenza, but that they may have other conditions and/or complications such as pneumonia or respiratory failure that contributed to their death.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s influenza summary update for the week ending Jan. 25, 2014, shows the flu is widespread in Utah.
WSU Police Chief Dane LeBlanc and his department have been saddled with the task of pandemic planning, which is now called public health emergencies planning. He worked with the communication department to get some new posters out on campus, as he said the old ones were becoming “white noise” to students.
LeBlanc said it is important for students, faculty and staff to stay home when they are sick, so they don’t spread their illness around campus to their classmates or co-workers.
“The reason this is so important, from our university’s perspective, is because this environment is very conducive to spreading illness,” LeBlanc said. “We’re packed in classrooms, computer labs and areas where hundreds of people continually move in and out, so it’s easy for germs to travel through the environment quickly.”
LeBlanc is working with the WSU President’s Council, faculty and Facilities Maintenance to raise awareness of the flu season and its seriousness.
With various professors putting an attendance policy in their syllabi, many students who feel ill still come to class for fear of their attendance loss affecting their grades.
WSU communication senior Stephen James Cogan said he worries about his grade dropping because of the attendance policy many of his professors are pushing, so he still comes to school when he is ill.
“I’m not exactly so sick that I feel like I have the flu,” Cogan said. “I guess it is possible, but the reason I have to come to this class is because, in certain classes, the professors are very rigid about missing. If you’re not there, it can really affect your grade.”
Officer Mike Davies, who is over emergency planning, said the department asked for support from faculty. From his understanding, faculty are supposed to work with students by keeping up with them either through Canvas or email.
“I’m pretty sure they’re supposed to have an avenue for students, to still make sure that people can still attend class from home,” Davies said. “From my understanding, that’s what’s supposed to be taking place.”
LeBlanc is asking faculty and staff to help him with his efforts by purchasing supplies such as Kleenex and hand sanitizers for their departments so students can sanitize their desks and keyboards before and after they use them.
“In 2009 I spent around $16,400 of my own budget buying supplies for the campus, such as hand sanitizers and sanitizing wipes, and really each department should be purchasing their own,” LeBlanc said.
Juliana Larsen, WSU director of Student Heath and Wellness, urges students to get immunized. She said the number of illnesses on campus is no higher than last year, but that a problem is definitely arising, and WSU students need to be aware and stay safe.
The Student Health and Wellness Center is located in the Student Services Building, Room 190. Most services are free to students. Larsen encourages students to come in if feeling ill or for any reason related to health and wellness.
Larsen also suggests students go to their local grocery store to get a flu shot as soon as possible. She said the best way to stay healthy during flu season and throughout the year is to wash hands frequently, get enough sleep and eat nutritious meals.