Swine flu worsens in New York City
by Daniel Bush
May 19, 2009 | 2444 views | 0 0 comments | 57 57 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Juan Diaz, an 11-year-old I.S. 73 student, shows the nurse's note that let him out of school.
The swine flu scare intensified this past week as Mitchell Wiener became the first city resident to die from the disease and the city announced more school closings. As of press time, 14 schools have been closed temporarily by the Health Department.

Meanwhile, health officials were investigating the death of a toddler who was brought to Elmhurst Hospital Monday night with flu-like symptoms. It has not been determined as of press time if the 16-month-old boy died from the H1N1 virus.

The day after Wiener's death, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and teachers union president Randi Weingarten held a joint press conference on the flu before I.S. 73 in Maspeth, where at least 330 students of the school's 1,700 were kept home by parents as fear of the disease spreads throughout the city.

All but one of the 14 closed schools are in Queens. A majority of the state's flu cases have been reported in the city, where on Monday as well Michael Bloomberg announced the appointment of a new city health commissioner, Thomas Farley, who is an infectious disease expert.

In Maspeth, Weingarten urged worried residents to take extra caution, and stay home from work or school if they experience flu-like symptoms.

"If you're sick, stay home," Weingarten said. "If you have an underlying respiratory condition, see a doctor."

Klein said the Health Department was investigating possible swine flu cases at I.S. 73, and would release information once testing there is complete.

"The Department of Health is here, they're doing analysis. As soon we have information," Klein said, "we'll get it out."

Klein told parents to sit tight as the city works to contain a virus stronger than many first thought. Experts believe there may be as many as 100,000 swine flu cases around the country.

"What we're learning now is that this strand of influenza can have a serious effect," said Klein, who refuted rumors that as many as 40 city schools might close due to the flu. Though stopping the virus from spreading altogether may not be possible, elected officials are asking people to take simple, commonsense steps to ensure they don't pass germs on to others.

These include washing hands regularly and using hand sanitizer, coughing into one's arm instead of hand, and notifying a doctor right away if flu-like symptoms appear, Klein said.

Common symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue; some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting as well.

Weingarten told parents of school-aged children who have decided to keep children home from school to inform the Department of Education if their children are sick or not. At I.S. 73, and elsewhere in New York City, parents of healthy children have begun keeping them home as an extra precaution. Weingarten said any additional information would help the city deal with the problem.

"The more reliable information we can get, the more reliable decisions we can make," she said.

Weingarten, Klein, and council members Eric Gioia and Elizabeth Crowley spoke before a crowd of concerned parents and teachers from I.S. 73, many of whom were there to determine what to do about the disease.

"Parents have been calling saying they're not sending their children to school because they're afraid," said Daisy Rangel, a parent coordinator at I.S. 73.

A science teacher there, Don Desmond, said wild rumors amongst the students circulated all day after the news of Wiener's death. Weiner was the assistant principal of I.S. 238 in Hollis.

"As a parent, I have a right to keep my daughter home if I don't think it's safe," said Denise Genise, whose child goes to P.S. 229, another Queens school that has experienced high absence rates since the flu first broke. Genise said the city should clean the schools once and for all to remove any threat of the disease.

Klein advised residents to have patience as the health department continues its investigation into the deadly virus.

"I'm confident that as long as we all come together," said Klein, "we will navigate through this effectively."

Despite these assurances, students from I.S. 73 expressed worry over the flu when they were let out of school two hours after Klein spoke.

"Our English class is right next to the nurse's office, and all you could see were parents and sick kids," said Sabrina Verterano, 12. "The line outside the door went all the way down the hall."

A classmate, Anna Terrebetzky, 13, said she was not feeling sick but was worried for other students.

"I feel fine," Terrebetzky said, "but there are a lot of kids that are sneezing, really pale, and have red eyes and noses."

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