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Four more Queens schools closed amid possible flu outbreak

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A Jamaica school administrator was fighting for his life Friday after being infected by the swine flu as the city tried to determine what started an outbreak at his campus as well as other possible outbreaks at four other Queens schools.

By Friday afternoon IS 238 in Jamaica, PS 16  in Corona, IS 5 in Elmhurst, JHS 74 in Oakland Gardens and PS 107 had been closed because of either confirmed cases of the flu or sick stuents.

Mitchell Weiner, a longtime assistant principal at IS 238, the Susan B. Anthony School at 88-15 182nd St., was listed in critical condition at Flushing Hospital after he began experiencing severe symptoms of the swine flu, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference Thursday evening. Weiner, 55, was rushed to the hospital Wednesday and was breathing on a ventilator as of Friday, according to the mayor.

The city shut down the school Friday after Mitchell and four students were diagnosed with the swine flu, or H1N1 virus, and dozens more experienced flu like symptoms, Bloomberg said.

“I just wish we were notified earlier,” said Nancy Crespo, a IS 238 alum and parent of a current student.

Crespo’s 13-year-old daughter, Alexis Morales, said Health Department officials quarantined two seventh-grade classes and she went to her doctor after she began experiencing flu symptoms. The teen did not know if she was infected with the swine flu strain as of Friday.

Crespo and her daughter spoke highly of Weiner, who has been an administrator of the school since the 1980s and brought a get-well card for him. The mother nearly shed tears as she reminisced how Weiner had made a difference in her life and helped her and her friends during their adolescent years.

“Even when I was here, he was close to all of the students,” Crespo said.

In addition to the Jamaica middle school, the mayor and the governor announced that the Dept. of Education was closing PS 16 in Corona, where 29 students were reported to have had flu-like symptoms Thursday, and IS 5 in Elmhurst, where 241 students were reported absent Thursday, according to Bloomberg. The mayor said the DOE made the decision to close the schools because of the large cluster of students that became sick.

On Friday, the Department of Health announced that JHS 74 in Oakland Gardens and PS 107 in Flushing would also be closed after several students showed flu like symptoms.

Although none of the cases at the four Queens schools other than IS 238 had tested positive for swine flu as of Friday, Paterson urged New Yorkers not to panic.

 “We will continue to work closely with New York City officials to monitor the situation at these three schools and schools across our state to ensure that we are taking all necessary precautions to protect our children and families,” he said in a statement.

The Jamaica outbreak  at IS 238 was the third constellation of swine flu at a Queens school within the last 30 days.

Three weeks ago, St. Francis Prep High School was closed for more than a week after more than 70 students and teachers were infected with the H1N1 virus and dozens more came down with flu-like symptoms. Nearby Fresh Meadows PS 177 was also closed for a week after some of the students who were associated with Prep were infected.

None of the students at Prep or PS 177 died from the disease and went on to make a full recovery. Some Prep seniors had taken a trip to Mexico, where the flu strain was believed to have originated, a week before the outbreak. However, city officials said they do not know how the virus had spread to the Jamaica middle school.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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