Student now allowed to wear surgical mask
Officials had asked child to take off mask on Thursday after rumors started

COVINGTON - Some people are taking the swine flu scare more seriously than others. The mother of a seventh-grade student sent her son to Cousins Middle School on Thursday wearing a face mask, and the rumor mill got out of control, according to Sherri Viniard, director of public relations for the Newton County School System.

"Students and some employees were concerned that the reason he was wearing the mask was because he was infected," Viniard said. "It got to the point that rumors were spreading that someone in the building did, in fact, have swine flu. The boy refused to remove the mask and called his mother. She came and picked him up from school."

Viniard said school administrators wanted to speak with the parent to explain why they had asked him to remove the mask, but she left without

speaking to them.

Viniard said the youngster was back in school on Friday and was allowed to wear his mask. She said he also had a sibling at Ficquett Elementary School who was wearing a mask as well.

"We understand the concern parents have and even though we've been informed again today that the CDC is stating that unless you are in the health care setting, there is no need to wear surgical masks, we are going to allow children to do so," she said.

Viniard said NCSS was distributing letters with students Friday designed to "re-emphasize the same prevention techniques we posted on our Web site ..." The school system Web site is www.newtoncountyschools.org, and Viniard said a special link has been added to the East Metro Health Web site, enabling parents and the community to stay up-to-date as information becomes available.

Viniard also cautioned that any illness requires diligence to keep it from spreading among students.

"As always, we ask that parents keep their children home if they are ill ... whether it's a cold, the flu or any other virus," she said. "There has only been one confirmed case of the swine flu reported in the entire state of Georgia, but we deal with seasonal flu every school year."

She said students are given the same prevention techniques - covering mouth and nose when sneezing; washing hands often with soap; etc.

"We review these tips with children at school, and we encourage parents to reemphasize the message at home," she said.

Viniard said NCSS is continuing to stay in close contact with health officials to monitor the situation.

"We even sat in on a conference call this morning with East Metro Health," she said. "School systems, EMAs and other officials from Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton counties all participated in this call, and we are constantly in contact with them to receive and provide information."

In other school news, a fire alarm was activated Friday morning at Newton High School during a performance of "Sleeping Beauty" at Porter Memorial Hall.

"A fog machine used during a play set off the school smoke alarm," Viniard explained. "The school was evacuated as a precaution but returned to class in about 10 minutes."

Barbara Knowles can be reached at barbara.knowles@newtoncitizen.com