Masks going to schools to curb H1N1

California school districts will receive 23 million masks and pairs of gloves to help curb the spread of swine flu, the state schools chief announced Friday.

"We want to keep students, teachers and staff healthy and in school," Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell O'Connell said in a statement.

Details of the program were being released at a Los Angeles County warehouse in Santa Fe Springs packed with boxes of disposable gloves and masks.

The items, paid for by federal grants, will be shipped free to 58 county offices of education and to the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the nation's second-largest district.

They are intended for roughly 10,000 public schools with about 6.3 million students in more than 1,000 districts, said Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Education.

Stanislaus County's share includes 1,554 boxes of the masks and 1,243 boxes of gloves.

Though they'll be used in the emergency of an H1N1 outbreak, they can also be used in cases where a student or adult has flulike symptoms and is waiting to be taken home, Stanislaus County Office of Education officials said. Schools already have been stocked with other gloves and masks.

The new items will be disseminated to Stanislaus County schools based on their student enrollment, and schools can use them as they wish, officials said.

Shipping of the supplies began late last month, McLean said.

Federal guidelines recommend that students with H1N1 symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat be sent to a separate office or sick room until they can leave campus.

But it can take several hours before parents can pick up their children, McLean said.

Surgical masks for children

In the meantime, the child will be asked to wear a surgical mask while the school nurse or other staffer will wear a different type of mask and gloves, McLean said.

There have been more than 7,200 cases of swine flu reported in California this year, 366 of them fatal, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Although some counties have reported drops in the number of new swine flu cases, indicating the pandemic may have peaked locally, McLean said schools always can store the masks and gloves in case there's an outbreak of another type of flu.

"Next year, we're sure to have another flu season," she said.