One of the first things a government should do if a global flu pandemic begins - even before it hits your country - is to close all the schools. So writes Tyler Cowen in a new George Mason University working paper, Avian Flu: What Should Be Done (PDF).
Once a pandemic breaks out abroad, we should shut the schools immediately. This will limit the ability of children to pass the flu to each other in close, regular settings. We should assume that the flu is coming to the United States or has arrived, rather than remaining in denial, or believing that a quarantine will keep it out. We should not wait for the first wave of U.S. human cases to close the schools and day care centers. So far it appears that children are a group especially vulnerable to current H5N1 strains. If need be, some of the schoolwork could be posted on-line and taught in a virtual manner.
Difficult questions arise when both parents must work for reasons of income or because they supply essential medical or economic services. ...Nonetheless these significant inconveniences are not worth the potential loss of thousands of children’s lives through the school system. Children, of course, also pick up flu strains at school and bring the diseases back home. They are potential spreaders nonpareil, and we should limit this transmission mechanism before it gets well underway.
I'm not sure I'd move that soon. one of the lessons fom the SARS crisis, surely, is the need to avoid public panic. Likewise his opposition to quarantine is contentious. Nonetheless, most of the policy recommendations appear economically sensible, with a certain libertarian streak: "pro-intellectual property, pro-decentralization, and skeptical of quarantine and centralized stockpiles", as he puts it. Tyler particularly emphasises the need for local preparedness:
The single most important thing we can do for a pandemic - whether avian flu or not - is to have well-prepared local health care systems. ...Realize that the federal government will be largely powerless in the worst stages of a pandemic and make appropriate local plans.
You may also wish to read his Marginal Revolution post, where he invites comments.