When Vinnie Cervoni came to pick up his 6-year-old son, Giovanni, from Marion Earl Elementary School on Wednesday, he wasn't sure whether he would take his son back to school today.
A confirmed outbreak of swine flu there, he said, might cause him to keep his son home as a precaution.
He said he and his family were "going to talk it over."
Nearly 200 children were absent from Earl on Wednesday, a day when public health and school officials said at a news conference there was no need to close the year-round school despite that sample tests of six sick children determined four of them had swine flu. The other two tests were negative for influenza.
John Middaugh, director of community health for the Southern Nevada Health District, said there is no need to close Earl because scientists have found that the H1N1 influenza A, or swine flu virus, has been found to be no more serious than the seasonal flu.
"We don't close schools for the seasonal flu," Middaugh said in an interview after the news conference.
On Wednesday, Cervoni said he dropped off hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes at his son's first-grade classroom at 6650 W. Reno Ave., near Jones Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue. He was pleased to learn the teacher already had done an "excellent job of wiping down the classroom."
The sample testing of sick students by health district officials was done Tuesday, after more than 150 children students stayed home, to determine the cause of the absenteeism.
Officials noted that the absences, which reached 195 Wednesday, did not mean all students were ill as some might have stayed home as a precaution or for other reasons.
Middaugh said that local officials were following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that were revised in May.
The guidelines state that closing a school "is not advised unless there is a magnitude of faculty or student absenteeism that interferes with the school's ability to function."
Diana Taylor, the Clark County School District's health services director, said the school, which has an enrollment of 614, is still able to function adequately. Taylor at the news conference would not say how many students or teachers would have to be absent to cause a school to shut down.
Middaugh, whose previous work in public health was in Alaska, said schools remained open there during one period when 70 percent of students became ill.
In late April, the CDC advised officials to close schools for up to two weeks if students were infected with swine flu, advice seconded by President Barack Obama in a televised plea.
Middaugh conceded that those earlier warnings could cause some parents to be concerned about sending their children to a school where swine flu has been detected.
But he said the earlier CDC guidelines were an outgrowth of erroneous reports from Mexico that indicated that many previously healthy young people died of a virus that spread rapidly through communities.
He said that after American public health investigators went to Mexico, they found that reports of the disease's severity and spread were exaggerated.
That new information, with the fact that swine flu has spread into communities throughout the United States, has made school closures largely ineffective in controlling the virus, Middaugh said.
"They closed schools in New York City, and it didn't control it," he said.
"There is no public health reason to close schools. That's why the guidelines for closing schools has changed."
Dr. Mary Guinan, the state's chief health officer, recently told the Review-Journal that school closures "should be based on science, not fear."
Earl parent Ernest Danhieux is a construction foreman who has been out of work for nine months. Because he is busy looking for a job, Danhieux does not have the luxury of keeping his 8-year-old son home as a health precaution.
"He's better off here," he said. "He hasn't shown any of the symptoms."
Danhieux suggested the school take 10 minutes to teach students about washing their hands and covering their cough.
"When we were in the second and third grade, we didn't care about stuff like that," he said.
Earl administrators sent home a note with the children assuring families they were monitoring the situation. The letter noted that testing is not necessary for the readmission of children to school or day cares. It also said "patients should manage their illness as they would seasonal influenza."
The health district anticipates additional cases of swine flu at schools. Recently it changed its protocol in monitoring the disease. Before, the district counted all cases of swine flu, but now it is only counting those cases in which a patient has been hospitalized. The mildness of the illness caused this change.
All schools in the district continue to monitor student health office visits and symptoms of influenza.