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Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Release # 027-09
Monday, May 18, 2009

CONTACT:
Jessica Scaperotti (DOHMH) - (212) 788-5290
Margie Feinberg (DOE) - (212) 374-5141


Health Commissioner Frieden and Schools Chancellor Klein Announce City Will Close Three More School Buildings in Response to Increased Flu-like Symptoms

More cases of illness expected in the coming days; New Yorkers with underlying, chronic health conditions reminded to seek medical attention if exposed to flu

May 18, 2009 – Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced that the City Health Department has recommended closing three more school buildings in Queens for up to five school days after documenting unusually high and sustained number of influenza-like illness over a number of days. The three school buildings will be closed beginning Tuesday, May 19th. 

The three school buildings are:

  • Q209 building (617 students) in Whitestone, which includes P.S. 209 (the Clearview Gardens School, 544 students) and P9 (73 students), a school for students with disabilities. A total of 24 students were documented with influenza-like illness during the last six school days.
  • P.S. 19 (the Marino Jeantet School, 1,979 students) in Corona: A total of 49 students were documented with influenza-like illness during the last six school days.
  • P.S. 32 (the State Street School, 633 students) in Flushing: A total of 30 students were documented with influenza-like illness during the last six school days.

Late last week the city closed ten schools in Queens (I.S. 238, P.S. 16, I.S. 5, JHS 74, P.S. 107, M.S. 158, Our Lady of Lourdes, I.S. 25, World Journalism Preparatory and Q233) and one in Brooklyn (I.S. 318) after documenting confirmed cases of H1N1 at I.S. 238Q, and unusually high levels of flu-like symptoms in the other schools.  The Health Department continues to work with the Department of Education to assess the situation daily and make decisions regarding school closures on a case by case basis.

To decide upon whether to close a school, we monitor the number of children coming to the medical room with flu-like symptoms and documented fever.  In addition, we monitor daily absentee data.  If the number of children with fever and flu-like symptoms at the medical room increases or there are a sustained number of cases over a number of days, we recommend closure in an effort to slow transmission in that school and minimize exposure to students and staff and their household contacts with underlying medical conditions.

“We continue to see a rising tide of flu in many parts of New York City,” said New York City Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden.  “As the virus spreads, we will look to slow transmission within the individual school communities by closing individual schools. Unfortunately, we fully expect to see more severe illness in the coming days, particularly among people who have underlying health problems.  I want to stress how important it is for New Yorkers with underlying health conditions to get treated if they have fever with either cough or sore throat, and to see a doctor and discuss the need for preventive medicine if they have been exposed to someone with flu.”

“We continue to follow the recommendations of the Health Department in determining which schools need to be closed to ensure the health of students and staff,” said Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. “We make these decisions school by school, aware that closure disrupts families and student learning but mindful that our first priority is the welfare of our students.”

In addition to suspending some schools with unusual clusters of illness, the Health Department advises any New Yorker who has flu symptoms and also has an underlying health condition such as asthma, pregnancy, emphysema or other lung disease or diabetes; a compromised immune system or cancer; to seek medical treatment.  In addition, if an individual with such a medical condition has household or other close contact with someone with influenza, they should see their doctor to determine whether preventive medicine is needed.  For students, staff, and household members of affected students and staff at schools which have been closed, those who have an underlying medical condition as stated above should also see their doctors to discuss the need for preventive medicine.

Symptoms of H1N1 (SO) include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting as well. Any New Yorker experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, should seek health care and treatment. The best way to prevent additional cases of flu in schools is to stay home when sick, cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and wash hands frequently. For those who are ill, the recommendation is to stay home until they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours.

Eating pork or pork products cannot spread H1N1 (SO) flu. The most effective way to lower the risk of spreading the flu is for anyone with a fever, cough or sore throat to stay home. The City’s Health Department urges everyone to continue taking these basic precautionary steps:

  • Cover your mouth when you cough, either with your sleeve or a tissue or handkerchief.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Try to avoid household or other close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with a fever, cough or sore throat, stay home for at least 24 hours after all of your symptoms are gone.
  • Stay away from clinics and hospitals unless you have severe symptoms, and notify your doctor or the clinic before you arrive, or as soon as you arrive, so that you can be appropriately isolated from others.

School and day care administrators, employers and managers of group living facilities should make sure to do the following to avoid the spread of illness:

  • Keep shared spaces clean and well ventilated.
  • Group living facilities should separate people who are sick
  • Schools and employers should encourage those who are sick to stay at home, but should not require doctors’ notices to let healthy people return.
  • Encourage hand washing and the covering of mouths when coughing. Educational posters are available on the Health Department’s website in English, Spanish and Chinese at www.nyc.gov.
Influenza can evolve in unpredictable ways; it is impossible to know whether H1N1 will dwindle, remain the same, or surge in coming weeks, and whether the illness will remain mild. Some severe cases may occur, including in people with underlying risk factors, such as young children, the elderly, and people with chronic medical conditions. The Health Department is watching closely for signs of increased virulence.

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