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Queens School Affected By Flu Outbreak To Open Monday

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TWC News: Queens School Affected By Flu Outbreak To Open Monday
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St. Francis Prep High School in Queens is scheduled to reopen Monday, after being thoroughly cleaned in the wake of the H1N1 virus outbreak, officials announced Friday.

Moreover, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Friday that no new cases of the flu were reported.

With 33 cases pending, all but two of the city's 49 confirmed cases are linked to St. Francis Prep in Queens. The school has been closed all week and is set to reopen on Monday.

After meeting with State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Queens Councilman David Weprin, among others, school officials said the air system was purified, and they were confident that the school is nearing the end of its ordeal.

"We are beating this thing," said Brother Leonard Conway, the principal of St. Francis Prep. "They have purged the air system. We have been running on 100 percent outside air and purging I'm told is the inside air goes outside and the outside air goes inside."

Health officials said all of the school's students recovered or were close. Students took online courses at home this week.

"We haven't seen severe illness. That's what we were concerned about," said Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden. "That doesn't mean we won't, but its reassuring, a week in, that we haven't seen a single case of sever illness with flu. But we do expect the virus to continue to spread through the community."

P.S. 177, where five cases are probable, is set to open on Wednesday. Those students had connections to nearby St. Francis Prep.

According to the Health Department, at least one of the probable patients is not linked to an area of high transmission, either Mexico or St. Francis.

The Health Department said that tests of students at Pace University and Manhattan's Ascension School revealed seasonal influenza, not H1N1 as previously thought.

Frieden said this strain could circulate next flu season and one of the most important things is to focus on is creating a new vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control says a vaccine for H1N1 will not be available at least until the fall.

So far, the virus that has been spreading through the city has been mild.

"It looks like we're getting through this in a nice way and I don't detect any fewer people in the subway or in the stores or people canceling trips," said the mayor. "The bottom line is that its safe to come to the city."

Yet Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, whose wife and daughter came down with flu-like symptoms, was dissatisfied with the process of finding test kits and medicine for his family.

"It took us close to four different pharmacies by which we had to receive notice and then acquire it," said Smith.

He said he wrote a letter to the president to improve access.

Church To Take Extra Precautions

With large gatherings of people expected to attend Sunday Mass, the head of the New York Archdiocese said extra precautions were being taken to prevent the spread of H1N1.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan said the church has issued some new protocols for its pastors, from ensuring that Eucharistic ministers scrub their hands, to possibly not giving communion from the same cup.

Dolan said thankfully things had not reached the point where Mass should be cancelled, as was the case in many of the churches in Mexico last weekend.

"Thank God we're nowhere near that now," he said. "But if this were to get worse and if the health people were to say, 'Archbishop, maybe it's best if you caution people who are our elders or children not to go to Sunday Mass, I'd be willing to do that.' But we haven't come to that yet. God willing we won't have to."

The archbishop said the church's priority has been making sure its children are safe.

Nation Stockpiles Anti-Flu Drugs

President Barack Obama said it is possible the H1N1 outbreak may run its course, like other influenzas, but that the government was preparing for the worst.

There are more than 50 confirmed cases in New York State, and more than 90 confirmed cases of H1N1 in 18 other states.
The Department of Health and Human Services is buying 13 million treatment courses of anti-flu drugs to replenish the nation's stockpile.

States will soon be able to do their own tests for the virus. The CDC is sending out testing kits, in an effort to relieve some of the pressure on its Atlanta office.

With more than 430 schools closed nationwide, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged students and teachers to work together during the closures.

"This school year isn't over yet. Don't fall behind your peers at other schools that are still in session," said Duncan. "Keep working hard. We want to finish this school year off strong. Our basic theme is keep safe and keep learning."

In Mexico, where the outbreak began, Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova confirmed the deaths of 16 people from the virus.

Health officials collected some 700 samples of people who were likely infected with H1N1. More than 350 of those people tested positive for the virus.

Mexico has received three million face masks and other supplies from China, and is also expecting a shipment of 400,000 courses of antiviral drugs from the United States.

In response to the flu outbreak, Continental Airlines cut its service to Mexico on Friday.

The airline's officials said they will continue to serve all of their Mexico destinations, but the number of flights would be cut and capacity slashed by 50 percent by using smaller aircrafts.

Continental is waving change fees until May 31 for passengers who want to not take flights they booked to Mexico.

Health officials also reported the first two confirmed cases of H1N1 in Asia.

Officials in South Korea reported the country's first case in a woman who recently returned from Mexico, which Chinese officials also confirmed a case after a Mexican citizen developed a fever when he arrived in Hong Kong Thursday. Hundreds of workers and guests in the man's Hong Kong hotel have been quarantined for a week following the diagnosis.

Nearly 600 people have now been sickened worldwide in at least 15 countries.

Scientists have found the strain lacks the markers found in the virus behind the 1918 pandemic, which killed tens of millions, but they are still bracing for a possible surge in cases during the colder months.

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