Flu season sweeps through Minnesota, dozens of schools face outbreaks

Flu season is off to an early and rapid start in Minnesota, as respiratory viruses sweep through schools. 

According to weekly data released by the Minnesota Department of Health, school outbreaks doubled in the last week. While there were 97 new school outbreaks in the first week of November, that number skyrocketed to 195 new outbreaks in the second week.

MDH data dating back to 2010 shows this is one of the earliest starts to the flu season in recent history. 

"The rise and onset of viruses this early in November – and we haven’t even reached Thanksgiving - certainly has our attention," said Pediatric Doctor with Gillette Children’s Hospital Madeline Gagnon. 

Gagnon says the influenza hospitalizations at Gillette are mirroring the trends being reported by MDH, as they are already reporting half the number of hospitalizations they saw all of last year. 

The Hinckley-Finlayson school district had so many students out sick this week, administrators announced a shift to virtual learning Friday. A district spokesperson said around 20 percent of students were out sick, most of them exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

St. Paul Public Schools partnered with Ramsey County Public Health to offer the first community flu shot clinics in over a decade at district headquarters Thursday. St. Paul Schools reported sick calls nearly doubling the last two weeks.

"We knew this was going to be a problem this year… which is one of the reasons we wanted to do this," said Mark Jackson with Ramsey County Public Health.  

A spokesperson with MDH said despite the sudden spike, each season is going to be different due to the flu’s unpredictability and so they don’t consider this unusual or unexpected.