"Today is the first of what will be many efforts to keep New Yorkers informed about what we are doing to prepare for the return of the H1N1 and seasonal flu," said Bloomberg in a press release. "We can’t predict this year's flu season, but we can make sure the City government is fully prepared for whatever happens."
According to Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, there are two types of flu viruses expected to hit New York in the upcoming months: seasonal influenza and the H1N1 virus, which hit New York in the spring.
Bloomberg plans to offer free flu nasal spray and vaccine from H1N1 to all elementary schools, both private and nonprivate across the city, with parental consent, as well as to select sites for older students in each of the five boroughs.
In addition, he announced a prevention campaign targeting the 1500 schools across the city, which will begin at the start of the school year. The goal will be to educate children in prevention techniques such as proper hand-washing and covering their mouths with sleeves or tissues when sneezing and coughing. Parents will also be receiving letters and handouts drafted in nine languages, urging them to keep children experiencing flu symptoms at home. Regular restocking of soap and paper towels is also part of the strategy.
Bloomberg says he wants to maintain an open-school policy, keeping schools open when children are experiencing flu-like symptoms, closing schools only as a last resort. In the event that a school has four percent of its children experiencing flu-like symptoms, a doctor or nurse will come to the school to assess the situation.
In addition to focusing on schools, Bloomberg announced a campaign by the Health Department to raise public awareness about getting vaccinated against the H1N1 strands this coming flu season. Posters, flyers, subway advertisements as well as radio spots will be some of the strategies used to inform the public about the new vaccine, set to come out mid-to-late October.
New Yorkers will also be able to visit www.nyc.gov/flu , which includes information about both types of the flu as well as information about the vaccines available. The Web site also features a vaccine locator with an option to enter a zip code in order to find a nearby location for vaccination.
Although the seasonal influenza as well as the H1N1 virus are not expected to cause any serious illness, Bloomberg discussed that it’s important to keep the emergency departments clear. Last spring, when the H1N1 virus broke out, patients flooded emergency rooms.
Alternative treatment sites will help to decrease the pressure on emergency rooms and if there is a need, hospitals will expand their emergency departments. Those without insurance will have access to free vaccinations at Health Department immunization clinics, designated Health and Hospitals Corporation flu centers and community health centers.
Bloomberg says this strategy is based on the best information available at this time.