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Flu outbreaks in schools are running rampant in Minnesota so far this season

The flu is peaking faster — and higher — than in previous pre-pandemic years.

HINCKLEY, Minn. — Flu outbreaks in school classrooms don't typically peak in Minnesota until late December or after the New Year.

This season, however, the outbreaks are already running rampant.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health's latest report, schools reported 97 new flu outbreaks last week, bringing the yearly total to 324. It's considered an "outbreak" if 5 percent of the total enrollment or three or more students from the same classroom are out with influenza-like illness.

In the Hinckley-Finlayson School District, Superintendent Brian Masterson said that nearly 20 percent of his students are out sick, leading the district to shift all schools to distance learning on Friday.

"The sickness is being seen in many forms with flu-like symptoms being the most common sickness we are seeing," Masterson said. "We are seeing students with fevers, coughs, sore throats, and other typical symptoms you would expect during a cold/ flu outbreak."

Greetings to the Jaguar Community, Due to the high number of illnesses among the students and staff, all HF schools...

Posted by Hinckley-Finlayson School District on Thursday, November 17, 2022

At Phalen Lake Elementary in St. Paul, meanwhile, school nurse Michelle Mauder estimated that 10 percent of her students are out with an illness. Although RSV remains an issue, she said that the flu has become much more prevalent. 

"People aren't just out for a day or two. When they're getting this, they're out for three to five days minimum. The fever just seems to be lasting longer and they're feeling sick for a lot longer than normal," Mauder said. "Teachers are having seven, eight, nine kids out in their classroom. It's been really tough."

It's uncommon to see so much flu activity before Thanksgiving break, according to Mauder.

"This is much earlier than what we're used to," Mauder said.

The flu has also impacted athletes, as they begin winter sports later this month.

Rodrigo Menendez, who coaches young figure skaters at arenas across the Twin Cities, said the flu has kept many of his athletes off the ice in recent weeks, including a few who had to stay home from Braemar Arena in Edina on Thursday night.

"Definitely, I can feel the flu season a little more intensely this year than years past," Menendez said during a break from practice. "I feel like it's just a little worse this year."

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