POLK COUNTY, Ga. (WXIA) – The fast-spreading flu in Georgia is forcing an entire school system to shut down and start winter break early.
Polk County's school superintendent says so many students and teachers are home sick with the flu, he had to close all 10 schools, to make sure no one who may be infected attends classes and spreads it to others.
He ordered the schools closed as of noon on Wednesday to give parents of children who aren't sick a little extra time to arrange for the unexpected, two-day early start to the two week Christmas break.
"It really hit us on Monday," said the superintendent, Dr. William Hunter, Tuesday evening.
Dr. Hunter said that he hoped on Monday that the flu would let up, but instead it got worse.
Tuesday, more than 1,300 students stayed home sick with the flu, out of 7,800 – 17 percent of the student body. And 78 teachers were out sick, out of 500 -- 16 percent of the teachers.
Georgia's Department of Public Health says flu is widespread throughout the state, and that it's not too late for people to get flu shots. Even though this year's flu vaccine is not an exact match for all strains of this year's flu viruses, DPH says getting the flu shot can lessen the severity of the flu, if someone does come down with it, and the shot can also shorten the time one is sick.
As it is, flu is spreading so fast in Polk County schools, parents of healthy children were saying they were not going to let their kids go to school at all.
"In fact, I had a lot of people tell me on Monday that they just were not going to be able to send their kids to school later in the week because they didn't want their kids sick all during Christmas vacation," Hunter said. "So the decision was pretty easy to make."
"It's kind of alarming," said parent Kim Jolly.
Jolly also works in a pharmacy, and she said it can barely keep up with the demand for Tamiflu.
"We dispense upwards of 20 to 30 doses per day, if not more. And that is a lot in our pharmacy," she said.
So, she is sure that closing the schools two days early for the Christmas break will help.
"I think that will, hopefully, contain it, and maybe over the Christmas vacation time it will die down, because there's less contact" among students and among teachers, Jolly said.
The superintendent expects the students will be able to make up the two days through their on-line classrooms, just as they did with some snow days last year, and be back healthy and strong January 5.