First Swine Flu Death Reported in NYC

May 18, 2009 Updated: May 18, 2009

NEW YORK—A school administrator at Queens school I.S. 238 died of the swine flu (H1N1) virus on Sunday evening. Flushing Hospital Medical Center spokesman Andrew Rubin confirmed that assistant principal Mitchell Weiner passed away at 6:17 p.m. on Sunday, and that he had swine flu. Weiner was admitted to the hospital on Thursday.

Mayor Bloomberg and outgoing Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden announced on Friday that three schools located in Queens, P.S. 16Q, I.S. 238Q (where Mitchell Weiner worked), and I.S. 5Q were closed on Friday and would remain closed for at least five school days in response to unusually high incidence of influenza-like symptoms. The list of closures has since grown to a total of nine schools in Queens and one in Brooklyn.

The I.S. 238Q (the Susan B. Anthony School) in Jamaica had reported on Friday that four students and one critically ill employee, Weiner, were diagnosed with the swine flu (H1N1) virus, and over 50 students were sent home due to flu-like symptoms since May 6. Twenty-nine students were also reported to have flu-like symptoms by the school nurse at the P.S. 16Q in Corona and 241 students were absent from the I.S. 5Q (the Walter Crowley Intermediate School) in Elmhurst on Thursday.

"We have been carefully monitoring the H1N1 virus, and we're taking this action today because there are unusually high levels of flu-like illnesses at three public schools," stated Mayor Bloomberg. "As we have said from the outset of the appearance of H1N1 in our City last month, we will share with New Yorkers what we know and not speculate on what we don't know," he continued.

Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced on Sunday that the City Health Department had recommended closing the additional three school buildings in Queens for up to five school days after documenting unusually high and increasing levels of influenza-like illnesses. The three school buildings will be closed beginning Monday, May 18th.

“We are now seeing a rising tide of flu in many parts of New York City,” said New York City Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden. “With the virus spreading widely, closing these and other individual schools will make little difference in transmission throughout New York City, but we hope will help slow transmission within the individual school communities. Given the large number of cases, it is entirely possible that in the coming days there will be people with severe illness from flu, particularly among people who have underlying health problems.”

Queens Council member Eric Gioia issued the following statement on Sunday evening, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Mitch Weiner tonight. Mitch Weiner served the City’s children honorably for two decades and helped to educate a generation of New Yorkers. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.”

“I am gravely concerned that the City is failing to provide important information in a timely way. My phone lines have continued to ring all weekend from parents and teachers who are concerned about whether schools should be open or closed. The lack of definitive information is causing great stress on families and school communities. New Yorkers have a right to know information. If a school is safe then the City needs to not only say it is, but give parents the all the information they need to make a decision for their kids."

In order to maximize the amount of information that parents, teachers, and New Yorkers have about the spread of the flu, Gioia has called for the City to:

Publicly release the protocol for closing a school
Provide real time attendance figures for schools
Release test results for schools, both positive and negative

The symptoms of the H1N1 infection include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue, and resemble those of the seasonal flu. Some instances of diarrhea and vomiting have also been reported. Health experts advise patients experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, to seek immediate medical treatment.

The preventative measures recommended by the Health Department include frequent washing of hands, covering mouth when coughing and sneezing, avoiding close contact with people who are ill, and keeping shared spaces clean and well-ventilated.

The Health Department also recommends for people with fever, cough, or sore throat to stay home until they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours in order to lower the risk of spreading the flu. Eating pork cannot spread the swine flu.

NYC Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden has been selected by President Obama to head the national Centers for Disease Control. Mayor Bloomberg is expected to announce his replacement Monday morning.

The New York City Health Department has recommended closing nine public schools in Queens and one in Brooklyn:

IS 238Q – reopening Friday, May 22
PS 16Q – reopening Friday, May 22
IS 5Q – reopening Friday, May 22
JHS 74Q – reopening Tuesday, May 26
PS 107Q – reopening Tuesday, May 26
MS 158Q – reopening Tuesday, May 26
IS 25Q – reopening Tuesday, May 26
World Journalism Preparatory (located at IS 25) – reopening Tuesday, May 26
PS 233 (located at IS 25Q) – reopening Tuesday, May 26
IS 318K – reopening Tuesday, May 26

In addition, one non-public school in Queens Village, Our Lady of Lourdes, is closed until Tuesday, May 26.