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Furloughs, Flu Throw Families Into Flux

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Coping strategies for a season of discontent.

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The email from the school nurse this week was polite, but firm.

"H1N1 is now widespread in New Jersey -- in every county," it read. "Even though we've had no cases, it's time to plan ahead. Parents are still sending children to school sick. We want you to know that we will send them home -- no exceptions."

So much for the policy passed down lovingly by my own mother. It went something like this: Headache? Runny nose? Fever below 101? If you were alive and breathing, you were going to school.

Swine flu -- now reborn as the "hiney" flu because the number ones in H1N1 can be mistaken for the letter i's -- is wreaking havoc with the intricately woven plans of working parents as well as some workplaces, where infected employees are going to work because they can't afford to miss any time.

School districts across the country are suspending "perfect attendance" awards this year to eliminate any incentive to go to school sick. But for some families, school is the only daycare option.

As my friend Pascale likes to say, the only kids who earn perfect attendance awards are those whose parents have to get to an office every day.

If you or your child get sick and you're lucky enough to have a job where you can work from home, you can always teach your kids something about money on MinyanLand or get a jump on making holiday cards courtesy of Office Max (OMX) with Elf Yourself!

Unless you work for Goldman Sachs (GS), it may be a full-time job just to find a vaccine. The FDA this week approved vaccine production by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), but supply is still expected to lag far behind demand (See Big Pharma Scrambles for a Piece of the Vaccine Pie). Here is the Flu Shot Finder from Google (GOOG).

Consider for a moment the plight of parents in Hawaii, where budgetary woes resulting in Furlough Fridays for schools have turned every week into a child-care scramble.

Curious about how parents are coping in paradise, I reached out to Curtis Tom, a bank executive, father of two, and chairman of the board for the Maui Family YMCA.

When Furlough Fridays were first announced, the Y opened three sites on Maui to handle what was expected to be an overflow of children, but response has so far been underwhelming.

"In talking with my co-workers and others around the state, almost everyone has a close friend, neighbor, relative, who is currently laid off," Tom said. "It appears that this is how child care is being handled for most families on Furlough Fridays.

"Interesting enough, on the second Furlough Friday I found the malls to be full of families, probably because they were bored staying at home all day," he added. "In talking to a few parents, some of their kids are losing their enthusiasm to go to school."

The YMCA Board Chairs across the state are seeing a rise in requests for financial assistance to enroll children and teens in Y programs, he said. Parents are taking on additional responsibilities to fill the gap -- whether by downloading math and reading lessons or making additional trips to the library.

Hawaii has also been hit by the swine flu, resulting in several deaths, Tom said.

A friend produced this public service announcement for a local hospital about ways to keep germs in check. Please spread it around.

For related content see our content package, Viral Threats: What Epidemics Like Swine Flu Mean to the Markets.

How are your community and workplace responding to flu-related absenteeism? Post a comment below.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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