Twelve New York City schools remain closed today in an effort to prevent the spread of the swine flu virus after it claimed its first local victim, a 55-year-old assistant principal.
St. David's School on Manhattan's upper East Side became the latest school to be closed on Monday after about 10 to 12 percent of the students reported flu-like symptoms.
The independent Catholic school for boys decided on its own to close, bringing to 12 the number of public and private schools shut down by the virus, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during a press conference Monday.
St. David's headmaster David O'Halloran said the number of children who fell ill over the last four days was "unusually high" and closing "seemed like the right thing to do for now."
The school closings and the death of Mitchell Weiner, an assistant principal at Susan B. Anthony Intermediate School in Queens, N.Y., highlight the fact that the risk of swine flu has not yet disappeared.
Despite an ebb in news coverage and public fear, swine flu continues its march across the globe. As of Sunday, the virus has sickened at least 8,480 people in 40 countries, killing 75, mostly in Mexico.
"My first message today is that the H1N1 virus is not going away, despite what you may have heard," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "We do expect more illness, hospitalizations and death."
Weiner died Sunday night after spending five days on a ventilator battling swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus. He became the nation's sixth death from the widespread flu.
Bloomberg spoke about Weiner's death at the Monday press conference. "Mr. Weiner was a dedicated educator, and he was well liked by his students and cared deeply about them," he said. "His death is really a tragedy for our city and a terrible loss for the school community."
Officials have also reported three deaths in Texas, one in Washington state and one in Arizona.
Weiner, who taught in New York City for decades and started his career as a substitute teacher in 1978, was sick for nearly a week before the school where he worked was closed Thursday.
Doctors treated Weiner, who was overwhelmed by the illness, with an experimental drug as he slipped in and out of consciousness.
On Sunday, Bloomberg had said Weiner may have had other health problems that contributed to his death.
"This person may have had other health problems earlier. We're trying to identify that," Bloomberg said.
But the wife of the first person in the city to die of swine flu disagreed. Bonnie Weiner said her husband did not have a pre-existing condition that would make him more susceptible to the H1N1 virus.
"Gout would not affect severity of swine flu," she said.
The school closures might not stop with St. David's, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden said during Monday's press conference.
"It's possible that there may be more school closings this week; we'll make the decision based on what occurs on the days to come," he said. "There are many, many factors to consider when recommending closure, but obviously the health of our children, the school community, the teachers and staff is foremost."
No one else in the city has become seriously ill from the virus, but city health officials announced Sunday that four Queens public schools and one Catholic school would close for up to five school days. Three of the public schools are in the same building, and each school had students with flulike illness last week.
Schuchat said as the weather warms, she expects the numbers of people contracting the virus to drop, but she added the CDC would look closely at the Southern Hemisphere, which will soon enter its winter months.
Today Japanese health officials said the number of cases surged to at least than 121 over the weekend. Most of the sick are teenagers who have tested positive for the virus, and all were recovering in local hospitals or their homes.
Chile also confirmed its first two swine flu cases Sunday in two women who arrived on a flight from the Dominican Republic. The women, ages 25 and 32, are hospitalized and in good condition, Health Minister Alvaro Erazo told The Associated Press.
In response to swine flu worries, the World Health Organization will discuss whether a vaccine should be made and whether to raise the global alert level today at its annual meeting. The topic is expected to dominate the five-day annual meeting, which begins Monday in Geneva and involves health officials from the agency's 193 member states.
Officials will examine transmission rates and hear experts' recommendations on producing a swine flu vaccine.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.