New Health Commish Faces Swine Flu Trial By Fire

Six city schools closed today amid swine flu concerns...

Dr. Thomas Farley's first day on the job as the city's newly appointed health commissioner is sure to be a memorable one.

Farley inherits a health department that is contending with swine flu outbreaks throughout the city that have claimed the life of one man, shuttered the doors of several schools and infected hundreds of people, many of them school children.

"I think I'm prepared to taking on that challenge," Farley said, after being introduced by Mayor Bloomberg.

New York has 15 new cases of swine flu, bringing the total confirmed to 259, according to health officials.

Farley succeeds Dr. Thomas Frieden, who will head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frieden has been front and center during the swine flu outbreak and the former health commissioner does not see it ending anytime soon.

"There is no doubt that we will continue to see cases in schools, cases in different facilities, cases at Rikers Island and elsewhere," Frieden said. "We may see additional cases of people with severe illness."

Mayor Bloomberg and Frieden reiterated earlier swine flu warnings and discouraged family members with flu-like symptoms from visiting inmates after a Rikers Island prisoner became ill with swine flu symptoms over the weekend. Bloomberg said he's confident Farley can handle the city's latest health crisis.

 "I'm happy to say he is a dynamic leader that time and time again has showed himself to be up for a challenge," Bloomberg said of Farley, who comes to New York from the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans.

The Archdiocese of New York chose on its own to shut down St. David's parochial school in Manhattan even though there are no confirmed cases of swine flu, the mayor said. St. David's joins a Queens Catholic school and 10 other public schools among the growing list of swine-flu related school closures in the city.

An assistant principal from Queens became the city's first casualty linked to the swine flu virus on Sunday, according to hospital officials.

Mitchell Wiener, 55, an assistant principal at IS 238 in Queens, first got sick more than a week ago, but didn't go to the hospital until Wednesday morning.

"We were treating him very aggressively. Unfortunately, he did expire at 6:17 p.m. this evening," Flushing Hospital spokesman Ole Pedersen, told the New York Post. "He was in critical condition. His family was saying that he had not, in fact, deteriorated, which was true, but he was still extremely critical."

A makeshift memorial went up outside the school Monday morning. Candles and flowers were placed in front of the building, as was a hand-written note that read: "R.I.P. Mr. Wiener."

Days ago, Wiener's family said he was showing slight signs of improvement.

Wiener's wife, Bonnie Wiener, ripped officials who she accused of waiting too long to close schools, according to The Post.
The city "lulled us into a false sense of security," she told the newspaper.
Bonnie Wiener also said her husband told officials that his school should have been closed last week, The Post reported. She said her husband wouldn't have fallen ill had the school listened to him.
Wiener had been hospitalized and on a ventilator.

The city's first outbreak of swine flu occurred three weeks ago, when about 700 students and 300 other people associated with a Catholic high school in Queens began falling ill following the return of several students from vacations in Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Bloomberg expressed his condolences today.

"Mr. Wiener was still a relatively young man, and losing someone at that age is especially painful, obviously, especially for family and friends," the mayor said. "I remember how tough it was on my mother and sister and me to lose my father who died when he was in his 50s. There's nothing that prepares you for it."

The principal of IS 238, Joseph Gates, had appeared in the Flushing Hospital emergency room Saturday night complaining of flu-like symptoms. He was treated and released, authorities said.

Six more city schools were closed Monday because of concern for swine flu, bringing the total to 12.

City health officials announced Sunday that four Queens public schools and one Catholic school would close today for up to five school days. Three of the public schools are in the same building.

Each school had students with flu-like illness last week.

There were, however, no documented cases of swine flu, or the H1N1 virus, at any of the schools, said Jessica Scaperotti, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Wiener is the fifth person in the United States to die of the virus.

A woman in Arizona became the fourth victim in the US to die from swine flu Thursday. That case brought the worldwide death toll to 70.

The other deaths in America were in Texas -- a Mexican toddler and a pregnant woman -- and a man in his 30s in Washington state. Each suffered from other illnesses when they were infected with the virus.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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