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Graham school leaders hope canceling school curbs worst flu outbreak in years

Robbinsville High i s eerily silent after the district canceled classes Thursday and Friday to keep a flu outbreak from getting worse. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

This was supposed to be Christmas Spirit Week at Robbinsville High, but the silence is deafening.

"So, we've had a third of our student population out every day this week," Robbinsville High Principal David Matheson said.

The district took a drastic measure to keep a flu outbreak from getting worse by canceling Thursday and Friday classes.

Because finals start at the high school Monday, Matheson said school will go on next week.

The district also pulled the plug on sporting events. Days away from the start of finals, the high school is eerily quiet.

Matheson said close to 125 students at the high school have been absent in recent days and many teachers and substitutes are also sick.

"We've averaged at the high school six to eight teachers out every day," said Matheson, who calls it the worst such outbreak in at least two decades in Graham County.

"It's pretty bad. It puts a lot of stress on our teachers. We do have finals starting next week."

It's so bad, half the middle school staff has been out with the flu.

Seven out of the high school's 12 basketball players are sick, forcing the cancellation of a game earlier this week.

The crisis has gone viral at Tallulah Community Health Center. It has treated 70 flu patients this week, including first-grader Gracie.

Her grandmother Julie Jenkins said with so many of Gracie's classmates sick, she's worried.

"It's very concerning. I don't like seeing her sick at all," she said. "There was one class that had only eight students yesterday."

Dr. Christopher Port says closing schools is the right move.

"Well, you know, when get a little bit of cold weather, it brings everybody indoors and closer together, so they tend to spread the virus a little bit faster," he explained.

He urges the public to be cautious and wash hands frequently. The doctor also says it's crucial to get a flu shot.

Along with the flu, illnesses ranging from strep throat to pneumonia have added to the absences.

Lately, at the high school, they've taken precautions like wiping down the desks in between classes.

The district hopes time is, ultimately, the remedy.

"Maybe some kids can recover and be ready for testing next week," Matheson said.

Meanwhile grandmothers like Jenkins offer more fluids and more desserts.

"It is rampant," she said. "She wants a popsicle, so we'll get her a popsicle and head to the house."

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