The offices of Flushing politicians and School District 25 were inundated with calls from concerned parents following the outbreak of swine flu in Queens, largely because information was not initially available to non−English speaking parents, according to Councilman John Liu’s (D−Flushing) aide.
Liu’s chief of staff, John Choe, said after the initial outbreak of the disease at St. Francis Preparatory School, which closed the Fresh Meadows high school all of last week, both Liu’s and District 25’s offices were besieged by non−English speaking parents seeking information on the disease to see if their children could be at risk.
But initially as the city began to grasp the situation, the city Health Department did not release information in languages like Mandarin or Korean, both of which are widely spoken in northern Queens.
Fears were further heightened when it was reported that there was a possible swine flu case at PS 21 in Flushing, which turned out not to be a case of the new strain of the disease.
“We were getting a lot of calls because non−English speaking parents didn’t know what was going on,” Choe said. “Thankfully, I checked back and they now have this information up there.”
The DOH now has information on its site in seven languages, including Mandarin, Korean and Spanish. State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D−Flushing) said although getting information out to non−English speakers is always a problem, the reaction to the swine flu was not limited to that.
“We had gotten so many calls we actually put together a flier or a fact sheet to give out to people,” Meng said. “I think there’s just a lot of panic all around.”
The Health Department said it believes the swine flu strain affecting the city may not be as bad as initially feared and that the city has a handle on the disease. Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said at least 73 cases of swine flu had been reported in the city by Tuesday, 69 of which were from St. Francis Prep, and no patients had showed signs of serious illness.
Peter Koo, owner of the Flushing−based Starside Drugs pharmacy chain, said the Asian−American community was particularly leery about swine flu because of outbreaks of avian flu and the respiratory infection SARS that struck Asia in recent years.
Koo said surgical masks and prescriptions of flu−remedy Tamiflu, which are already on backorder at his pharmacies, flew off the shelves as anxiety over swine flu spread through the community.
“I tried to tell people there’s no need to rush on these things,” Koo said. “You just need to take a common−sense approach to these things. But people get worried — they over−worry I think. But there’s no need to panic. America is different from Mexico.”
The Centers for Disease Control has ordered millions of dosages of Tamiflu after a spike occurred, making the product scarce in many places. The federal agency expects prescriptions of the flu remedy to be readily available again shortly.
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@
©2009 Community News Group
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