by Julia Ernst
While students spent their summers working, going to the beach and catching up on sleep, Rider administrators worked feverishly to prepare for the upcoming flu season and all potential strains, including the H1N1 virus, or swine flu.
“Our recommendations are based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines,” said Debbie Stasolla, associate vice president for planning. “If [students] are close enough to go home, we’re going to send them home.”
Dean of Students Anthony Campbell explained that for international students and others who are not able to get home, Rider has set up “restricted access lounges” on the Lawrenceville campus, one in Conover Hall and one in Switlik Hall. If more space is needed, the Student Recreation Center will be used.
In addition, Campbell explained, Rider “has contracted with [Firstat Nursing Services] to help out medically so that we can accommodate folks who are sick in a restricted area.”
According to the American College Health Association, in the first weekly report of influenza activity on campuses across the nation, participating schools recorded more than 1,600 cases among 2 million college students, as of Sept. 2.
At Tulane University in New Orleans, the football team had 31 players come down with flu-like symptoms in August, and the volleyball team had six players who were believed to have swine flu. Several universities already operate the kind of isolation housing Rider has put in place for students who are ill.
On the Lawrenceville campus, Campbell and Stasolla explained that the restricted lounges have been set up to keep students as informed and as involved in their campus responsibilities as possible.
“For students who are in restricted access areas, we will bring them meals from Aramark,” Campbell said. “We do have wireless in there, so they can use their laptops. If they don’t have laptops, we do have a few that we can lend them.”
Stasolla said that students who do become sick must remember to stay abreast of academic responsibilites and do all that they can to not fall behind.
“If [students] do contract flu-like symptoms and they are going to be out for a while, they have to contact their professors, so that arrangements can be made for students to keep up with their academic responsibilities,” Stasolla said.
Regardless of whether or not students stay on campus while ill or go home, everyone who comes down with flu-like symptoms must notify the Dean of Students office, which will be keeping track of flu cases on both campuses.
Stasolla and Campbell also explained that Westminster students who have flu-like symptoms and are not able to return home will be transported by campus officials to the restricted area lounges on the Lawrenceville campus.
Guidelines have also been established for ill students about when they can return to class, which are in accordance with CDC suggestions. Though Campbell and Stastolla want to remind students that most cases of the flu are usually mild and go away within seven to 10 days, students who become ill should not return to campus until at least 24 hours after a fever has broken without the use of a fever-reducing medication such as Advil or Tylenol.
The CDC is currently producing a swine flu vaccine that they estimate will be available sometime this fall, and which Rider officials hope to obtain.
“College-aged students up to 24 are one of the risk groups that [the CDC is] focusing on,” Campbell said. “We’re hoping to get [the vaccine] on campus when it becomes available and give it to students.”
Stasolla explained that only time will tell how and when the vaccine becomes available for Rider to provide, but the university is doing all that it can.
“Depending on how much they have on hand initially for distribution, they may have to divide those further, depending on how much they have available,” Stasolla said. “We are keeping in contact with our local health officials and will keep students up to date.”
Valerie Kamin, director of student health services, explained that students who are fearful about contracting the swine flu should remember that though it does seem like a much more serious issue than the regular flu, the virus has been around for a long time, and students should try to keep that in perspective.
“We are talking about the flu,” Kamin said. “The flu has been around forever. The swine flu was here 30 years ago with an outbreak in 1976 and at that time, they were giving out swine flu vaccines and that may be why older people are not getting it.”
College students, pregnant women and young children are among the most susceptible to the virus, as older generations are generally not contracting the virus, she said.
“It’s having a resurgence 30 years later,” Kamin said. “This is not a panic situation. We shouldn’t panic. It’s always good to stay away from sick people, and if you’re sick, don’t go to class.”
Stasolla echoed Kamin’s comments saying the information sent out to students and the updates that continue to be provided are meant to inform students, not alarm them.
“We’re trying to balance our responsibility to students, faculty and staff, to share information in not an alarming way but in an informative way with mechanisms in place to prepare appropriately, not alarmingly, to protect our students,” Stasolla said.
Students can receive the flu vaccine for $25 at Rider’s annual seasonal flu clinic, which will be held on the Lawrenceville campus on Tuesday, Oct. 13, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the SRC seminar room and on the Westminster campus on Tuesday, Oct. 13, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. in Thayer Lounge.
To stay up to date about the swine flu virus, what Rider is doing to protect students and where to go for assistance, students, faculty and staff can contact Student Health Services or the Dean of Students office, visit Rider’s Web site (www.rider.edu), the CDC page on swine flu (www.cdc.gov/H1N1flu) or the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (www.nj.gov/health/).