College lifts flu precautions

The Dining Services and Facilities swine flu precautions implemented on April 29 were lifted on Monday with dining hall operations returning to normal and custodial cleaning practices being scaled back. “Incidents of H1N1 flu continue to grow in the U.S. but the cases are still generally not severe and we’ve had no confirmed ones at Williams,” said Ruth Harrison, director of Health Services, in an all-campus e-mail on Monday.
Harrison said that the decision to scale back the precautions came as a result of considerations among the College’s committee that exists to monitor health emergencies. “A group has been meeting regularly, monitoring Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and Massachusetts Department of Public Health updates, [as well as] conference calls with the Boston Department of Health,” Harrison said. “We made decisions based on the information from all these sources and what was happening locally and on campus.”

According to Bob Volpi, director of Dining Services, dining hall operations returned to normal with no lasting changes, but that the implementation of the flu precautions taught a valuable lesson. “We have learned that Dining Services can make swift adjustments and mobilize quickly to the needed changes in implementing safe food service precautions during serious flu outbreaks,” he said.

Harrison noted in her e-mail that custodians will decrease the frequency of cleaning, but will continue to clean public areas more frequently than normal – including once a day on weekends.
The concern remains that the H1N1 flu could return in the fall. Harrison explained that such a concern has a historical basis. “The first pandemic influenza wave appeared in the spring of 1918. It was a fairly mild respiratory illness with a relatively low case count,” she said. “It was followed by much more serious second and third waves in the fall and winter of 1918-19.”

Due to such concerns, the College will “continue to monitor the progress of H1N1 and other strains now, as the southern hemisphere flu season begins, and as the northern hemisphere season returns in the fall,” Harrison’s e-mail noted.

Harrison stressed that efficacy of prevention measures such as hand-washing and “cough etiquette,” which will continue to be the most important things individuals can do. “My hope for lasting change is that the entire community really has learned how to mitigate if not prevent the spread of contagious illness,” Harrison said.