UW-Madison, other agencies, work on swine flu contingencies - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UW-Madison, other agencies, work on swine flu contingencies

MADISON (WKOW) -- On a lazy summer day outside the Memorial Union, UW senior Travis Dewolfe remembers last spring's uncertainty on campus over the H1N1 swine flu virus.

"They were telling us to wash our hands more," said Dewolfe.

Of the campus's other precautions at the time, he added, "I think the things they added to campus fueled more worry than there should have been."

At the time, buildings were bombarded with signs. Hand-washing stations were set-up. Many of those are still around now.

There were also travel restrictions on programs going to Mexico, the source of the original swine flu outbreak earlier in the year.

With H1N1 striking young adults harder, a densely populated campus like UW-Madison could allow the virus to spread quickly in the fall.

At the university, they are planning for many "what if" scenarios.

University Health Services director Dr. Sarah Van Orman leads a group charged with planning for pandemics, called the Campus Health Issues Planning Committee. Started three years ago after scares over a possible human bird flu, the committee is ramping up its prevention and reaction plans by the time the fall semester begins.

"We hope we're overplanning, but I think a lot of campuses are doing precisely what we're doing," said Van Orman.

Among the ideas... asking sick students and staff to stay home for a week. Infected dorm residents may have to be moved to a designated location if they can't go home. Van Orman said the committee is working with University Housing to select exact sites.

"What we are recommending is isolation," she said, "and that means if you're sick, you need to be in a situation for seven days where you can't expose people."

In cases of high absenteeism, faculty is devising how to continue classwork.

"We do have contingency plans in place about how we might pick up the semester, everything we can do to make sure instruction's not interrupted, but those are hard questions."

Dewolfe remembered rumors and confusion last spring when students questioned if finals may have been postponed. He's happy to hear that more definitive plans could be in place is the same issues arise again.

"Really, I don't think students knew what the answers were, but it ended up not being a problem," he said.

"Some of our scenarios deal with lots of people sick, but a mild illness," said Van Orman. "In that case, there wouldn't be large-spread closures."

Van Orman said another question mark at this time remains over when the campus will receive a shipment of the swine flu vaccine, and how much.

The UW is not the only entity making swine flu preparedness plans. Madison Metropolitan School District spokesperson Joe Quick said a team of people were making plans even before this past spring's outbreak. Another meeting is slated for August.

State health department spokesperson Seth Boffelli said the Departments of Children and Family, Commerce, Emergency Management, and Public Instruction are all developing their own pandemic plans as well. Other state agencies are also strategizing about ways to cope in the case of high absenteeism, said Boffelli. He called it a situation of "planning for the worst and hoping for the best."

"We're doing all that planning, not that we anticipate it would happen, but so that we're ready here on campus for whatever might come," said Van Orman.

Email Carl Agnelly at cagnelly@wkowtv.com

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