Austin preschool closes after being hit hard by flu

Published 11:02 am Friday, January 18, 2013

Statewide, 33 more deaths bring season total to 60

Influenza swept through young learners at St. Olaf Church preschool early this week, causing a cancellation in classes.

St. Olaf Church’s Wee Learning Center closed on Wednesday for the rest of the week. Of the preschool’s four classrooms of 20 students, Director Jann Schroeder said anywhere from two to 11 children were absent each day.

“Tuesday morning we realized that we were fighting a losing battle,” Schroeder said.

Email newsletter signup

The Minnesota Health Department hasn’t labeled what the children have specifically as the flu, but as influenza-like illness: a fever of at least 100 degrees with a cough and sore throat. One child’s fever even reached 105 degrees.

“They are quite severe,” Schroeder said.

The children aren’t the only ones with the illness. One of the teachers and several aides have been out sick, as well.

Schroeder said she hopes the preschool will resume classes by Monday, but the children need to be symptom-free for 24 hours before they are cleared to return. That can be a tricky requirement with fevers that disappear one day but reappear the next.

“We just are hoping that these kids are doing better,” Schroeder said.


Over at Mayo Clinic Health System – Albert Lea and Austin, a flu information hotline at 507-379-2211 is providing callers with information about flu symptoms, whether or not further evaluation by a medical provider is necessary, and where to get a flu shot. The hotline or the medical center’s website,, can provide the latest information.

Mower County Health and Human Services did not return multiple calls for comment on Thursday or Friday about how the county is weathering the spell of influenza.

Flu-related deaths continue to rise in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday confirmed 33 more flu-related deaths, raising the state’s death toll this season to 60. Since the start of the flu season, more than 1,800 people have been hospitalized in Minnesota with confirmed influenza. Health officials say 476 people were hospitalized in Minnesota with confirmed influenza last week. But the Health Department says there’s nothing unusual about the situation, and the numbers only seem severe because flu seasons have been mild in previous years.

The state health department says there is no shortage of flu vaccine in the state — although some people haven’t been able to get flu vaccine from their primary care clinics.

Kris Ehresmann, the department’s infectious disease director, says flu vaccine is still available. But she says you may have to work a little harder to find it, because your primary provider might not have any right away.

Ehresmann tells Minnesota Public Radio News she suspects some clinics are choosing not to reorder vaccine once they’ve used up their supply. She says clinics may be reluctant to get more vaccine because they don’t know how long the demand will last.

In those situations, patients can look elsewhere for vaccine using the Health Department’s “Find a Flu Shot Clinic” tool.

Nationwide, 20 flu-related deaths have been reported in children so far this winter, one of the worst tolls this early in the year since the government started keeping track in 2004.

But while such a tally is tragic, it does not mean this year will turn out to be unusually bad. Roughly 100 children die in an average flu season, and it’s not yet clear the nation will reach that total.

The deaths this year have included a 6-year-old girl in Maine, a 15-year Michigan student who loved robotics and 6-foot-4 Texas high school senior Max Schwolert, who grew sick in Wisconsin while visiting his grandparents for the holidays.

“He was kind of a gentle giant” whose death has had a huge impact on his hometown of Flower Mound, said Phil Schwolert, the Texas boy’s uncle.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.