BILLINGS – A fourth-grade student at St. Francis Catholic School died of influenza Tuesday, the first reported pediatric flu death in Montana this season, RiverStone Health announced Wednesday.
The girl had fallen ill Sunday and died three days later. She was identified as Chloe Lai of Billings.
In Yellowstone County, there have been 649 reported flu cases, 131 hospitalizations and four deaths, including this most recent, according to RiverStone. The last pediatric deaths in Montana from the flu occurred in 2015-2016, when two children died.
In Montana, influenza has declined in recent weeks but remains a problem in an overall busy season. The state has seen 6,500 cases, 674 hospitalizations and 33 deaths.
Billings Catholic Schools Superintendent Shaun Harrington sent a letter to parents on Tuesday informing the school community of the student’s passing. In a statement to the media released Wednesday, he noted that people with the flu are most contagious one day before symptoms develop and one to three days after the illness begins.
Grief counselors and parish priests have been at the school today to talk to students and staff.
In the media statement, Harrington said the student missed class last Wednesday for non-medical reasons, and classes weren’t held Thursday or Friday. He also noted that custodial staff follows disinfecting protocol as normal procedure, and teachers always have Clorox wipes and other cleaning materials to protect against germs.
“We have appreciated that our parish priests and the Crisis Team have been here to provide support to our students and staff. The Billings community and our Billings Catholic Schools family have been very supportive of the school and (the student’s) family,” Harrington said in the statement.
RiverStone officials recommend everyday measures to protect against the flu:
- Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Washing your hands often with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, if soap and water are not available.
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoiding close contact with sick people.
- Staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or necessities. `
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.