Swine Flu Shuts Down 16 NYC Schools

Fears rebound as another 3,229 students are locked out of school.

May 18, 2009— -- New York City health officials announced the closure of three more school buildings for Tuesday, bringing the total number of schools closed due to swine flu to 16.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein today announced that the City Health Department has recommended closing the Q209 building in Whitestone; which includes the Clearview Gardens School and P9, a school for students with disabilities; as well as the Marino Jeantet School in Corona and the State Street School in Flushing. Together, that increases the number of locked-out students by 3,229.

Administrators and city health officials took the steps after a total of 103 students in the four schools were documented with influenza-like symptoms during the last six school days.

The announcement is the latest development in a saga that is now ending its first full month of widespread media coverage. News coverage and public fear had just begun to wane. A dozen school closings on Monday and the death of 55-year-old Mitchell Weiner, an assistant principal at Susan B. Anthony Intermediate School in Queens, N.Y., on Sunday -- the city's first such fatality -- cast the spotlight once again on the mysterious illness.

Worldwide, the virus has sickened at least 8,829 people in 40 countries, according to the latest statistics released by the World Health Organization. A total of 76 deaths have been reported, 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, during a Monday press teleconference. "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.

Mitchell Weiner, Latest Swine Flu Death, Remembered

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.

More Swine Flu School Closures, Deaths Likely

The school closures might not stop with St. David's, 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.

H1N1 Virus Spreads

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.