Thirteen schools in Alabama have switched to remote learning amid a surging flu outbreak, with virus hospitalizations in the state three times higher than normal.
In a move reminiscent of Covid lockdowns, the Marshall County school district said it was suspending in-person teaching for four days.
The closures will ‘mitigate the spread of the virus’, according to the school which said it can’t stay open due to rising teacher absences.
Last week CDC data revealed America is facing its worst flu crisis in a decade with seventeen states already recording ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of the disease.
The move will see more than 5,000 elementary and high school students forced to complete their lessons at home rather than in the classroom.
Students will have to log on to the school system from home to access their lesson materials. Some parents have already raised concerns, suggesting their child does not have access to a computer at home.
It comes despite mounting evidence that shutting schools during Covid robbed children of an education and widened inequalities.
Research indicates that the American schoolchildren slipped backwards by about six months in maths alone on average, with those in the poorest areas now two-and-a-half years behind.
The Marshall County school district, in north Alabama, has switched to remote learning owing to an uptick in flu cases across the county. This will last for a week
The above shows flu hospitalizations in Alabama this year (red line) compared to the previous two years (blue line). They are spiking in the state
Alabama is one of three states — the others being South Carolina and Tennessee — with the highest levels of flu-like illness in the country
Flu’s ferocious comeback: Hospital rates hit decade-high
America’s flu hospitalizations are at their highest level for this time of year in more than a decade, official statistics show.
Seventeen states are already reporting ‘high’ or ‘very high’ rates of admissions to their hospitals, at levels not normally seen until late November or December.
Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee are worst affected, with up to five admissions per 100,000 people — nearly five times the national average of 1.2 per 100,000.
Nationally, rates have risen more than three-fold over the past month alone, with experts warning it ‘certainly looks like the start’ of America’s worst flu season in at least a decade.
There have already been nearly 1.6million cases, 13,000 hospitalizations and 730 flu deaths so far this year according to official estimates.
The outbreak has arrived about six weeks early and is more severe than usual — with the virus typically appearing in late October and peaking in December or January.
The CDC said the burden of flu is the highest it’s been since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, based on lab-confirmed cases, doctor visits, hospitalizations and deaths.
Americans are thought to be particularly at risk of severe disease this year because stay-at-home orders robbed them of exposure to healthy germs.
In a statement, the school system said: ‘With an increase in staff and student flu numbers, MCS will transition to remote learning beginning 11/7 through 11/10.
‘Due to staff shortages, we are unable to operate.
‘Weekends and Veterans’ Day holiday on 11/11 will give a nine-day window to mitigate the spread of the flu virus.’
All the schools will be online from Monday to Thursday, with schools shut Friday for the national Veterans’ Day.
The district includes six elementary schools, two middle schools and four high schools across Marshall county.
It also has a technical school.
Together, they have more than 5,000 pupils.
Overall about 10.34 per cent of people seeking hospitalized care have a flu-like illness.
This is more than three times higher than the 3.3 per cent that would be expected at this time of year.
Parents have already raised concerns over the move to remote learning, saying children have not been allowed to take computers home.
One commented: ‘How are we doing remote learning? It’s my family’s first year in this school system and my middle schooler says they aren’t allowed to take computers home.’
Attempts to educate online during the pandemic led to a collapse in children’s attainment and test scores.
Experts argue the move led to children being set back ‘by several grades’.
Reading scores in America have seen their largest score drop since 1990 while results are also dropping in math.
There has also been a rise in anti-social behavior, with three in ten teachers saying they are seeing more fighting, bullying and threats of violence in the classroom.
It comes as America’s flu season hits earlier than planned, with hospitalization rates already at their highest level for this time of year in a decade.
Alabama is among the three states worst affected — alongside Tennessee and South Carolina — with the highest rate of hospitalizations due to the illness.
Its flu levels are currently three times higher than normal for this time of year, with one in ten people admitted to hospital having a flu-like illness.
Northern Alabama has the lowest percentage of outpatient visits for flu state-wide. All districts had levels above baseline.
There were more than 100 flu outbreaks reported last week across the state in hospitals, schools and care homes among other areas.
The schools closed are: Asbury Elementary School, Ashbury High School, Brindlee Mountain Primary School, Brindlee Mountain Elementary School, Brindlee Mountain High School, DAR Elementary School, DAR Middle School, DAR High School, Sloman Primary School, Douglas Elementary School, Douglas Middle School, Douglas High School and Marshall Technical School.
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