Swine Flu Scare Closes Three More Schools

Six schools to miss significant time

New York City is closing three more schools where students have been sickened with swine flu symptoms. That brings the number of shuttered schools to six.

JHS 74 in Bayside, PS 107 in Flushing and IS 318 in Williamsburg are closing for five days.

JHS 74 reports 26 students with flu-like symptoms, PS 107 reports 49 and IS 318 reports 53 students with symptoms.

The latest closures suggest the virus is spreading quickly, although officials caution that the symptoms have generally been mild. However, an assistant principal at IS 238 in Queens is in critical condition with a confirmed case of the swine flu and is said to be approaching death.

Concerns over the swine flu virus yesterday prompted the city to shutter IS 238, PS 16 and IS 5 -- all in Queens -- for five days each starting today after students began complaining of flu-like illnesses. Crews scoured the schools Friday with disinfectant.

The newest schools were given a five-day shutdown as well, which means those students could be out until May 25.

“We are continuing to carefully monitor H1N1 virus throughout the city, and are taking action again today because there are unusually high and increasing levels of flu-like illnesses at these three public schools,"  said outgoing Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden, who said was named today by President Obama as the new director of Centers for Disease Control. His replacement will be named Monday.

Some parents have questioned how city health and education officials have handled this second wave of the flu. Earlier this month, IS 238 sent out a letter to parents denying any swine flu connections at the school. The letter references a rumor that a parent of a student came into contact with swine flu, but says a doctor confirmed the parent did not have swine flu.

“On Monday, I found a notice in the library that said, ‘If you are sick, you should stay home,’” eighth-grader Kvon Williams-Sparks told The New York Times. “But nobody has otherwise talked to us.”

Arrie Bines, the mother of a 6th-grade student who came down with a fever, said her son asked teachers earlier in the week about swine flu and was told there was no threat. Bines said she was at the school yesterday and was told the same thing.   
"If I had known there was swine flu at the school I would have kept him home," said an angry Bines.

Meanwhile, Mitch Wiener, IS 238's assistant principal, is on a breathing tube and barely able to talk to his family, according to his sons. Health officials have confirmed he has the swine-flu virus.

His wife, Bonnie Wiener, said her husband would not be critically ill if the Health Department and Department of Education officials closed the Hollis school sooner, the New York Post reported.

"He's in critical, critical condition," Bonnie Wiener told the paper. "It's a nightmare I can't wake up from."

More than 50 students at IS 238 have gone home sick with flu-like symptoms, Mayor Bloomberg said at a briefing last night. At IS 5, 241 students were absent Thursday. Dozens more were sick at PS 16.

The “large clusters” in the schools is “a little surprising,” Frieden said. The virus isn't more virulent than seasonal flu but appears to be spreading more rapidly than other flu strains.

"We don't know how far it will spread, how wide it will spread, or how long it will spread," Frieden added. "We will continue to monitor very intensively where it will spread."

All three schools are special education schools with more than 4,000 students combined.

New York City's first known cases of swine flu appeared in late April, when hundreds of teenagers at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens began falling ill following the return of several students from vacations in Mexico, where the outbreak began.
At first, the virus appeared to be moving at breakneck speed. An estimated 1,000 students, their relatives and staff at the St. Francis Prep fell ill in a matter of days. A limited number of kids had confirmed cases of swine flu because the Health Department tested only a small amount of students.
City health officials became aware of the outbreak on April 24. The school closed and health officials began bracing for more illnesses throughout the city.
But the outbreak then seemed to subside. Additional sporadic cases continued to be diagnosed, but the symptoms were nearly all mild. The sick children recovered in short order. St. Francis reopened after being closed for a week.

At the start of the flu outbreak in the United States, government health officials recommended that schools shut down for two weeks if there were students with swine flu. But when the virus turned out to be milder than initially feared, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped that advice but urged parents to keep children with flu symptoms home for a week.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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