Richmond school shuts down temporarily after surge in flu-like illnesses concerns health leaders

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Doctors are seeing a surge in respiratory illnesses that could cause severe symptoms in children, and it’s affecting some local schools.

St. Michael’s Episcopal School in Richmond closed its middle school this week after an outbreak of flu-like illnesses.

Andrea Amore, the school’s director of communications, said that out of an abundance of caution they transitioned to two days of asynchronous at-home learning on Wednesday and Thursday. The school had already scheduled student holidays for Friday, Nov. 4, and Monday, Nov. 7.

Middle schoolers will return to classes on Tuesday, Nov. 8. The school’s lower division remains open for in-person classes.

Dr. Elaine Perry, the director of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, said the flu got a head start this year.

“It’s not surprising to see more cases. What’s concerning is that it’s so early in what we would call a typical flu season,” she said.

The flu comes on the heels of two other viruses that are now circulating: Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), a common respiratory illness that’s like a cold, and COVID-19. Perry said RSV is causing pediatric hospital beds across the region and the state to fill up quickly.

“It’s in the very small infants that we’re most concerned. At this point it’s still elevated than what we expect to see this time of year,” she added.

Not only can RSV, the flu and COVID-19 strike consecutively, Perry said reinfection can happen, too.

“You can actually get any of those viruses: one, two or all three at once. It’s not common, fortunately, but it is possible,” Perry said. “Having had one doesn’t protect you from the others, because they’re very different viruses and for all of them you can get re-infected.”

Mitigation strategies for the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have kept flu cases down, and now people could become more susceptible to viruses.

Perry warns people to lookout for these symptoms when they’re feeling sick. “The most concerning symptom would be if you have difficulty breathing,” she said. “Mild nasal congestion, maybe a little bit of a cough, fever, generally not feeling well.”

To help slow the spread of these viruses, Perry recommends masking indoors, getting the flu vaccination and keeping up with COVID-19 booster shots.