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WCBSTV: Swine Flu Outbreak Shuts Down 3 NYC Schools; Assistant Principal Said To Be Critical

ywbn16.gifThree public schools in Queens will be shut down effective Friday after five people tested positive for the swine flu and a high number of students reported having flu-like symptoms, an CBS 2 has learned.

The affected schools are IS-5 in Flushing, IS-238 in Hollis, and PS-16 in Corona. They will be closed until next Friday, May 22.

“We have been carefully monitoring the H1N1 virus, and we’re taking this action today because there are unusually high levels of flu-like illnesses at three public schools,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “As we have said from the outset of the appearance of H1N1 in our City last month, we will share with New Yorkers what we know and not speculate on what we don’t know.

“We are closing these schools to slow transmission. You might find this info troubling, but we’ll continue to supply new Yorkers with all the information they need as we get it.”

A Health Department spokeswoman said that four students and a staff member have tested positive for swine flu at one school. The staff member, an assitant principal, is critical. She said hundreds of other students have been out sick with flu symptoms at the other schools in recent days.

The school closings will impact approximately 4,500 students in Queens.

“The assistant principal is very ill,” Bloomberg said. “He is hospitalized. Hopefully he’ll come through this fine. There is the possibility of pre-existing medical conditions with him.”

Bloomberg was joined at a Thursday night press conference by Gov. David Paterson, who commented on the enigma that has become the H1N1 virus.

“A flu epidemic peaking in middle of May is unusual but not uncommon,” Paterson said. “This is the best procedure, close these schools for public safety.

“As we learn more info about this virus we want to share it with the public. We’ll continue to monitor this statewide.”

Last month, a swine flu outbreak at the St. Francis Preparatory School and PS 177 in Queens forced officials to shut down those schools and several others linked to those confirmed cases. Bloomberg said there appears to be no links between those schools and the three closed on Thursday.

“There is no known connection between the three schools. They are reasonably far apart – five, six miles, but they are all in Queens. We just don’t know if this is an influenza strain that can change,” Bloomberg said.

“When you see a cluster all of a sudden, the likelihood of more students getting it is very real, so we chose to close the schools now.”

Bloomberg urged caution and said common sense should still be the law of the land.

“Every year influenza spreads around the world. This is a new strain, but keep in mind New York City itself has 2,000 people who die each year from influenza or pneumonia. What is unique here is that this flu seems to be attacking at a non-normal time,” the mayor said.

“Wash your hands, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze. Stay home. Don’t go to the hospital unless you are very sick. Don’t go back to work for a good 24 hours after all the symptoms disappear.”

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.

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.

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