Fear of illness grips Park City | ParkRecord.com

Fear of illness grips Park City

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Tension gripped the Park City area this week as leaders and regular Parkites, frightened with the prospects that six people from the Park City area might have contracted swine flu, waited anxiously for the results of lab tests that will determine whether the sick people have the virus.

Some wore face masks as others were spotted hoarding hand sanitizers at area grocery stores. Three of six probable swine flu cases that were awaiting confirmation in Summit County are school-aged children, officials said.

Utah Department of Health Executive Director David Sundwall wouldn’t release the ages of the other three local victims at a press conference Friday. New cases announced Friday upped the number of probable swine flu infections statewide to nine.

"We’re just anticipating that we’re probably going to see more and more cases because of the amount of travel back and forth to Mexico," said Carolyn Rose, the nursing director for the Summit County Health Department.

Many students have returned recently from spring break vacations in Mexico, where a newly discovered strain of swine flu has killed several people. Park City School District officials ordered all of the district’s eight schools closed early Thursday morning, saying that three students might have contracted the virus.

"Our local health-care providers strongly, strongly suggested that we close our schools because they are pretty confident that this will come back as a positive," Park City School District Superintendent Ray Timothy said. "We have three confirmed cases of what are called probable positives It’s not just your general influenza."

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He stood by the decision to shutter all schools and school-related activities through May 4.

"We know that one of the cases was a family that vacationed in Mexico over spring break," Timothy said. "The second and third students did not go to Mexico. They’ve picked up that influenza from someone else."

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was expected to analyze test samples and begin returning results Friday afternoon. Timothy did not release the names of the sick children or the schools they attend.

"The students who have it, they are doing fine," he said. "They don’t feel well, but they’re doing OK."

At least one of the students is a boy, he said, adding that the sick students attend elementary and middle schools in the area.

"They’ve had contact with students at all levels and I don’t think it is a greater risk in any particular area," Timothy said. "The concern is, with this being a new virus coming into the area, that in bringing everybody together, the ability to transfer that to other people and to spread that — local providers are just afraid that it would explode and the numbers would increase dramatically."

District officials made the decision at an emergency meeting Wednesday evening, Timothy said, adding that a call system began notifying parents and the media just after midnight.

"We did not feel like it was prudent to wait two more days for those initial results to come back," Timothy said. "We would rather err on the side of caution, so we chose to close the schools."

The Colby School and the private Winter Sports School in Park City canceled classes Thursday and Friday. The National Ability Center on Thursday canceled its programs and lessons until next week.

"We are going to make a decision about how much longer we’re going to stay closed, pending testing results," said Amy Fehlberg, the school master at The Colby School. "We have many families who have older siblings in the public schools."

Swine flu symptoms so far have been fairly mild, Summit County Health Department spokeswoman Katie Mullaly said.

"But it could evolve or mutate," Mullaly cautioned. "That’s why we want to control it now."

Summit County is prepared to manage an outbreak, Summit County Health Department Director Steve Jenkins said.

"We’re trying to keep people as calm as possible," Jenkins said.

At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said "the flu has arrived in Utah."

"We will have some confirmed cases in the days ahead, and the numbers will probably go up," Huntsman said.

Tests are pending on roughly 60 samples taken from sick people in the state, health officials said.

Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko said he could not confirm if any of those samples are from Summit County.