A 16−month−old Corona boy who died after exhibiting flu−like symptoms earlier this week was not infected with swine flu, based on preliminary tests, but 16 public schools in Queens remained closed following the death of a popular assistant principal at IS238 in Hollis from the virus and outbreaks of the illness around the borough.
People throughout the city have been rushing to emergency rooms with fears about swine flu, and Alan Aviles, president of the city Health and Hospitals Corp., said emergency admissions were about 50 percent higher than usual for adults and more than 100 percent above average for children
The city’s Health and Mental Hygiene Department said Wednesday preliminary testing of 16−month−old Jonathan Zamora Castillo of Corona, who died Monday at Elmhurst Hospital Center, found he was not a swine flu victim. But the agency said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta would further analyze the child’s tissue specimens and the results would be released later this week.
The city had closed 16 public Queens schools by Tuesday afternoon and widespread absences were reported at schools throughout the borough.
“A lot of parents called,” said Pauline Chu, a board member of the Community Education Council 25, which covers schools in Flushing and Whitestone, where six schools had been shuttered. “They’re very panicked.”
The shuttered schools include IS 238 in Hollis, PS 35 in Hollis, Merrick Academy Charter School in Jamaica, IS 158 in Bayside, IS 25 in Flushing, the World Journalism Preparatory School in Flushing, PS 233 in Flushing, Nathaniel Hawthorne School in Bayside, PS 107 in Flushing, PS 16 in Corona, IS 5 in Elmhurst, PS 255 in Corona, PS 19 in Corona, PS 32 in Flushing and PS 9 and PS 209 in Whitestone. Closed parochial schools include Our Lady of Lourdes in Queens Village, St. Demetrius School and St. Joseph’s in Astoria, and Holy Family in Fresh Meadows.
Mitchell Wiener, a longtime administrator at IS 238, died at 6:17 p.m. Sunday evening after fighting swine flu for five days at Flushing Hospital Medical Center, hospital spokesman Andrew Rubin said. Wiener, 55, had been hospitalized since May 13, Rubin said.
His death marked the city’s first fatality linked to swine flu. Five other people in the United States have died after coming down with swine flu. City health officials said Tuesday they were investigating the death of r as a possible swine flu case.
“What we do know is a child is dead, and it’s very tragic,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg cautioned Tuesday before the Health Department ruled out swine flu as the cause of death. “Speculation is not something we want to do.”
The infant’s death was the only suspected case of swine flu at the hospital, said Dario Centorcelli, a spokesman for Elmhurst,
“We’re seeing a lot of kids with various mild symptoms,” he said. But he pointed out that the school closures have sent a wave of concerned parents to the hospital’s pediatric ward. The previous record for children treated in one day was 249, set about 10 years ago, he said.
This past weekend the hospital averaged 370 children treated per day and on Monday the number went up to 407, Centorcelli said.
Queens Hospital Center set up a triage Tuesday to treat “worried well patients,” or individuals who have symptoms but are not major cases. The hospital had 140 patients in the ER Tuesday morning, which was reduced to 20 after the triage was set up.
This was part of the hospital’s contingency plan to handle a large number of ER patients. It has not admitted anyone yet with severe flu or the H1N1 virus. There were 192 confirmed cases of swine flu in the city as of Tuesday, according the city Health Department. There were four confirmed cases at IS 238 and four at Rikers Island, a jail facility.
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 all 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.
Nick Comaianni, president of Community Education Council 24, which represents schools in Maspeth, Ridgewood, Elmhurst and Long Island City, expects the city to close many more schools.
“My understanding is that there’s a lot more schools to follow,” Comaianni said. “I’m hearing unconfirmed reports that there’s a ton of flu−like absences throughout the entire district — and I mean a lot.”
State Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D−Little Neck) has called for all schools to be closed in District 26, which covers Bayside, Little Neck, Flushing and Douglaston. Weprin said in a statement that schools remain open “despite an absentee rate of 25 percent.”
Ivan Pereira contributed reporting to this story.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson
©2009 Community News Group
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