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The Lessons We Learned From the Last Pandemic Swine Flu and How This Information Can Help College Students in the Fall

Written by Rebecca Hastings


Posted on March 31 2020

Our daughter is 23 years old and while she is not on the frontlines of our most recent pandemic (Coronavirus), she continues to valiantly work every day in the greater San Francisco area as a senior project engineer. She is part of a team building a middle school, a school that will be ready for occupancy by June.  

As a parent we worry about our adult kids. Will they be safe, will they take extra precautions? Our concern is very real given the fact that California ranks 4th in the number of Coronavirus cases (5,763) with 118 deaths as of March 30, 2020. However, like many other families from around the world, our conversations with her typically focus on the positive and how we can stay safe out there.

One day, we were discussing the Swine Flu (H1N1) and I made the comment that I did not think it impacted our family. “Yes, it did” my daughter said. “Don’t you remember, my 8th grade Mexico trip was cancelled and then rescheduled?”

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It was true, in the Spring of 2009 my daughter and her Spanish class were to travel to Oaxaca, Mexico and stay with a host family, but that spring we were starting to receive reports that the Swine Flu (H1N1) outbreak (June 11- H1N1 was identified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization) was due to a virus that was first observed in Mexico. By May, nearly 600 H1N1 cases had been confirmed in Mexico, including 25 deaths. The first patient diagnosed with the Swine Flu (H1N1) in United States was a 10 year old boy from California. Two days later an 8 year old boy was reported to have the virus. He too lived in California, but there was no relationship between the two.

Unlike the Coronavirus, the Swine Flu (H1N1) primarily affected children and adults under 65 who lacked immunity to H1N1. Deaths for the first 6 months included approximately 540 children younger than 18 years, 2900 adults aged 18-64 years, and about 440 senior adults.

While over 700 K-12 schools closed across United States, the Centers for Disease Control CDC eventually advised against closing schools during H1N1 outbreaks. Some colleges and universities closed their doors and postponed sporting events while others across the country with confirmed virus cases (University of Delaware in Newark) remained open cancelling only a few public events.

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My daughter’s trip to Mexico was eventually rescheduled, but not without a huge amount of planning on the part of the school. In the end, the H1N1 virus created community disruption in all fifty states with the CDC estimating that there were 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3-89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (range: 195,086-402,719), and 12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the United States due to the H1N1 virus. In addition, the CDC estimated that 151,700-575,400 people worldwide died from the virus infection during the first year the virus was active.

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By the fall of 2009, colleges and universities were beginning to take steps to prevent, minimize and respond to outbreaks of both the seasonal flu and the Swine Flu (H1N1) virus as they welcomed students back to school. Here’s what they did:


  • Prepared for the Surge

Experts sounded the alarm that a second wave of Swine Flu (H1N1) was going to hit the university campuses hard by the fall of 2009. Like any large event where people gather and spend a considerable amount of time interacting with one another, a virus is likely to spread faster. And given college students close living arrangements in a dorm or apartment, communal restrooms and large parties where bottles, cans and cups have a greater likelihood of being touched and grabbed by others, it came as no surprise that the number of cases of the Swine Flu (H1N1) virus would increase significantly. The virus did spread fast- the University of Kansas reported nearly 200 cases of students diagnosed with the Swine Flu (H1N1), Georgia Tech 150 cases in the first two weeks, the University of Tennessee 100 cases and on the first day of class, the University of Alabama reported 50 students contracted the Swine Flu (H1N1).

Students with symptoms were encouraged to call (phone triage) the health clinic instead of dropping in. Other colleges (Hamilton College in upstate New York provided flu kits containing hand sanitizer, tissues, a mask, and a thermometer.

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  • Implemented a Vaccine Program

On Oct. 5, 2009, the U.S. began administering a newly approved H1N1 vaccine to some students, with vaccination coverage expanding nationwide by that December. Most colleges started administering vaccinations right away. According to Allie Grasgreen, “The University of Pennsylvania put on an annual eight-hour marathon clinic, where students willing to put in the five minutes can get vaccinated, documented and billed in a one-stop shop. (Penn charges $25; most colleges charge either nothing or a small fee that’s covered by insurance.)”

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  • Educated and Raised Awareness About the Importance of Personal Hygiene to Prevent the Spread of Infection


College and universities educated their student bodies via Facebook, fliers and posters hung in very visible areas. Information was everywhere. The Loyola University in Chicago took a little different approach from the typical (i.e. sneeze into your forearm) and when Halloween approached, they responded with the following:

“Drinking games, like beer pong, have been attributed by some to various cases of H1N1 among college students.

Alcohol does not kill the flu virus or prevent its spread from person to person.

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs can weaken your immune system, making your body more vulnerable to infections.

Do what you can to fight viruses like H1N1 and stay healthy; get regular sleep, eat nutritious foods, exercise, and avoid drinking too much alcohol and using other drugs.”

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  • Established a Campus Location for Quarantining Sick Students

Many colleges and universities established a quarantined area for students. At the Emory University in Atlanta it was called the Swine Flu Dorm, The Leper Colony or  Club Swine. Students received free meals, did not attend class, and traveled to the pharmacy in a van they call the Flying Pig. The idea behind the isolated rooms was to keep the students with the Swine Flu from infecting others.

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  • Created Flu Buddies

Finally, if possible, students remained in their dorm room especially if it was a single or private room and received care and meals from a single person. Many colleges and universities created a “flu buddy program”. Student volunteers were paired up to care for each other if one or the other became sick.

The first year of college is stressful enough without your student getting sick. If they do become ill or contract the virus (it is possible a second wave of the Coronavirus may infect college students in the fall), hopefully the college or university they attend will be flexible regarding makeup assignments and missed classes. This is one situation where staying home should be excusable and encouraged. Faculty members who create several options for providing coursework online, will see a more relaxed student who is willing to take care of themselves at home.



rebecca hastings CEO hugabox  

Rebecca Hastings is the CEO/Founder of hugabox, college care packages with a purpose (90% of the proceeds go to childhood cancer research). She is a huge advocate for sarcoma cancer research funding and works with others across the country to make childhood cancer a national priority. When she is not working, she is off hiking, skiing and playing golf with her husband. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram @ hugabox.



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