“She always had a smile on her face and was friends with everyone,” Little said.
Little and others at the school told students in Candy’s classroom late in the school day Wednesday of her death after receiving a call from the family that morning, he said. Candy had attended City Park since kindergarten.
School officials said they could not discuss a student’s medical information. Jennifer Moorer, a spokeswoman for the North Georgia Health District, said a 7-year-old girl in Whitfield County died Wednesday morning from illness related to the swine flu. It is the first swine flu death in Whitfield County, Moorer said. There have been no known deaths from swine flu, also known as H1N1, in Murray County.
Little said each student was sent home with a letter explaining that Candy had died after a “brief hospitalization.” “Please know that we have been in contact with this student’s family and medical officials and have not been advised to make any changes in our student health and safety protocols,” the letter from Little said.
“This was a hard hit for them today,” Little said of the students. “They were very calm, and obviously sad, and had a few questions about being sick and that type of thing.” With 735 students, City Park is the largest elementary school in the district.
Little said counselors from other Dalton schools will be at the school today to help students deal with the loss.
Moorer said the child had no known underlying medical conditions.
“We do want the public to know that this is very rare, that most people who get H1N1 illness (recover) and are fine just like they do with any other type of flu,” she said.
Student services director Craig Harper said schools are cleaned daily, but health officials haven’t advised them to do anything differently. Surfaces like doorknobs, seats, desks, handrails, bus seats and light switches all get a daily wipe-down, he said.
Students in every Dalton public school were sent home with a letter Wednesday explaining flu prevention strategies. Harper said the letter was planned several days earlier and had nothing to do with the student’s death.
He said officials are encouraging frequent hand-washing, urging people to cover coughs and sneezes, and are sending students home when they show flu symptoms.
About 6 percent of the 6,990 students in Dalton Public Schools were absent earlier this week, and about 6 percent of the more than 14,500 students in Whitfield County Schools were absent also, officials said. Many of the absences were flu-related.
From April 24 to Sept. 22, Georgia reported 351 hospitalizations related to H1N1 and 13 deaths. The numbers are updated weekly.
Moorer said the swine flu is not considered more severe than other types of flu. Flu patients are encouraged to call their doctors for advice rather than go for a visit or to the hospital, she said. Staying at home exposes fewer people to flu germs and also means the person will be exposed to fewer germs, she said.
The Brookings Institution’s Center on Social and Economic Dynamics estimated that the cost of closing all schools in the U.S. for four weeks would be between $10 billion to $47 billion. The Washington think tank called that a conservative estimate.
The government is urging schools to close only as a last resort, for example if large numbers of students or staff have the swine flu. As of Monday there had been at least 187 school dismissals across the country affecting at least 79,678 students, the Education Department said.
The World Health Organization says more than 300,000 cases of swine flu have been confirmed around the world. More than 3,900 people have died from the H1N1 virus.
For more information on swine flu, visit www.flu.gov or dch.georgia.gov.