On a day when state health officials cautiously declared the swine flu an epidemic in South Carolina, county schools superintendent Bennie Bennett was trying to convince a Bishopville baseball team it was safe to play in Newberry.
But after nonstop media coverage following a group of private school students' trip to Cancun, Mexico, two weeks ago, fears of the disease had grown so much that janitors wearing surgical masks spent the afternoon wiping down third-grade classrooms in Newberry with non-acidic disinfectant bathroom cleaner – even though no students there were infected.
Newberry County's 6,000 public school students are at home today. A cancer research fundraiser that had amassed $120,000 in early pledges is canceled.
And a group of seniors from Newberry Academy – where the state's first swine flu cases were identified – went to the lake, fleeing the whispers of a small town.
"I know that some of the children have been treated differently, where people would actually not talk to them and walk away from them," said Jennifer Moates, whose two daughters were on the trip and returned with flu-like symptoms. "I don't think the class of 2009 at Newberry Academy should be held responsible for this."
"They just want to get back to normal."
Not normal is dancing at your high school prom, only to be pulled aside by the principal to say you have to go to DHEC to get your nose swabbed for a rare form of the flu that had entered the country.
Not normal is playing one round at a high school golf tournament on Monday then being asked to leave until your test results come back – which Kim Sligh said happened to her son.
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