There was a drop in attendance in Queens schools this week, as a string of schools shut their doors and swine flu fears kept many students home, education officials revealed yesterday.
Attendance in Queens schools was at 82.4 percent Wednesday, compared to 89.6 percent last week. Overall, city attendance was at 85.1 percent compared to 88.8 percent last Wednesday, the Department of Education said.
Wednesday's attendance ranged as low as 39 percent at one school, but education officials caution that high absenteeism doesn't necessarily signal a flu outbreak.
The announcement comes as two more schools and part of a third announced they would close Thursday, bringing to 41 the total of shuttered schools in the area.
PS 242 in Flushing and PS 130 -- which also houses part of PS 993 -- in Bayside were added to the list Wednesday afternoon.
The spreading flu isn't only affecting schools; emergency rooms are being overrun as well despite no indication from health officials that the outbreak is any more severe than it was weeks ago.
New York has at least 273 confirmed cases of swine flu, 192 of them in New York City. Even more New York city public school closures were expected to be announced tonight after Levittown in Nassau County decided to shutter 11 of its schools.
City health officials continue to assure the public that the spread of the virus is not escalating faster than anticipated, but that hasn't calmed the fears of some New Yorkers as one community in Queens gathered Wednesday for a memorial service for the city's only swine flu fatality.
"The best thing we can do to fight anxiety is with the facts," said Mayor Bloomberg Wednesday. "That's what we've been doing and we will continue to do."
The cluster of local cases and precautionary school closures, first centered around Queens, has begun to emanate outward, moving north of the city to Sullivan County, west to New Jersey's Union County, and east to Long Island, where most recently the entire Levittown school district announced all schools would be closed for cleaning. Levittown officials said they have no official cases but are still closing those schools for cleaning.
Emergency rooms at area hospitals have become over crowded with scared and confused patients who are afraid they may have the virus.
"My fever is high and they told me they're going to give me more medicine. They said I might have the flu," Amineki Daley , 12, told the New York Daily News at Queens General Hospital ER in Hillcrest. "It's kind of scary in there. Everyone's coughing."
Since Sunday, one person has died from the virus, more than a dozen other schools have closed and several Rikers Island inmates have contracted the swine flu. One Sullivan County woman may have contracted the virus after attending a Mets game at Citi Field.
"My phone lines are ringing off the hook," Queens City Councilman Eric Goia told The News. "I'm hearing confusion and concern. It's not panic -- nor should it be panic -- but there is so much stress on Queens parents right now."
"Parents call and say, 'I don't want to send my son or daughter to school,' " St. Joseph's custodian Hector Florero told the New York Post.
Health officials on Long Island are reporting 13 new confirmed cases of swine flu in Nassau County.
Eight of the newly diagnosed patients attend Memorial Junior High in Valley Stream. As a result, the school was closed Wednesday and will stay closed Thursday.
Other cases on Long Island include a 4-year-old Freeport child who was hospitalized after becoming ill on May 11 with fever, cough and congestion. Officials said the family had traveled to Mexico.
Nasal swabs from a 16-month-old child who died Monday after being hospitalized with respiratory symptoms did not indicate H1N1 infection, according to the Health Department Tuesday night.
The parents of Jonathan Zamora Castillo, of Corona, noticed he was running a high fever Monday night and they rushed him to Elmhurst Hospital Center where he died less than an hour later.
Because the case was fatal, tissue specimens taken from the child have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further analysis. Results of those tests are expected later this week.
Meanwhile, friends and co-workers gathered Wednesday at a somber memorial service for Mitchell Wiener, who became New York's first swine flu linked fatality. Wiener, 55, an assistant principal at the Susan B. Anthony school, IS 238 in Hollis, died Sunday night after five days on a ventilator.
The virus is also spreading at the Rikers Island jail, where there are five confirmed swine flu cases and five more probable cases. That's up from just one confirmed case there on Monday. Seven housing units containing 280 inmates have been put under quarantine, according to The Post.