Amid a staggering increase in flu activity in Beaufort County, a private school has shut down its lower grades as a precaution.
On Monday night, Beaufort Academy Lower School announced it would close its preschool classes, for 2- to 4-year-old children, and kindergarten through fourth grade.
The Middle School and Upper School have remained open.
The academy’s preschool and elementary school grades were closed Tuesday through Friday and are expected to reopen on Monday.
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“The biggest reason we decided to close school for this age group is that they’re among the high-risk population where you’ll see hospitalizations and more severe consequences,” said Becky Bekemeyer, the academy’s nurse and director of admissions. “Their health and safety take priority over anything else.”
On Monday, about 47 percent of the academy’s preschool students were out sick with either the flu, a stomach bug or another contagious upper-respiratory infection.
Bekemeyer sent six lower school students home within an hour Monday morning. By the end of the day, nearly 30 percent of lower school students were out sick as well, she said.
“We thought it was best to close down, really disinfect the schools and let them (the students) rest without passing it around in order to end this cycle,” Bekemeyer said.
Due to the closure, more than 100 students were affected, 54 in the school’s preschool and 56 in the lower school.
Late Monday, the academy sent a letter to all parents, including those of middle and high school students who were still in class, asking them to keep their children at home if they had: a fever over 100 degrees, a soar throat, severe congestion, severe coughing, body aches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
Middle and high school students were also asked to remain home if anyone in their family was diagnosed with the flu or stomach bug.
About 10 percent of middle and high school students were also out sick this week so the school is “monitoring that situation very closely,” Bekemeyer said.
“We’re really encouraging hand-washing and your typical preventative measures as we continue to deal with this (the flu outbreak,” she said.