Swine flu fears close schools in NY, Texas, Calif.
By KAREN MATTHEWS – 2 hours ago
NEW YORK (AP) — Cleaning crews spent the day scrubbing down every desk, chair and classroom at a New York City high school. Infected students wore surgical masks as they recovered in their beds. Anxious parents woke their children at night to check their temperature.
The same strain of swine flu that was suspected in the deaths of 103 people in Mexico has infected at least eight students at a large Roman Catholic high school in Queens, and possibly more than 100.
About a dozen students from St. Francis Preparatory school apparently brought back the virus after spending a week in Cancun for spring break. All of the cases were mild.
Swine flu has been confirmed in at least 20 people in the U.S., also in Kansas, California, Texas and Ohio. Many of the victims had recently visited Mexico. The federal government declared a public health emergency Sunday to respond to the outbreak.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said roughly 12 million doses of the drug Tamiflu will be moved from a federal stockpile to places where states can quickly get their share. Several governors requested medication and masks.
Meanwhile, health officials nationwide were monitoring the outbreak, with many saying it was a not a question of whether their state would be affected but when cases would surface.
Health officials along the U.S.-Mexico border were asking health care providers to take respiratory samples from patients who appear to have the flu. Travelers were being asked if they visited flu-stricken areas.
In San Diego, signs posted at border crossings, airports and other transportation hubs advised people to “cover your cough.”
At Los Angeles International Airport, Alba Velez, 43, and her husband Enrique, 46, were wearing blue face masks Sunday when they emerged from the arrival gate after a trip to Mexico.
The Los Angeles couple hadn’t seen anyone sick while in Guadalajara but were nervous because of the stream of information about new cases.
“Most of the cases were in Mexico City,” Enrique Velez said, adding that the couple were wearing the masks because they’re “just cautious.”
It was a different story for edgy passengers heading south of the border.
“I’m worried,” said Sergio Ruiz, 42, who checked in for a flight home to Mexico City after a business trip to Los Angeles.
The technology manager said he planned to stay home when he gets back. “I’m going to stay there and not do anything,” he said.
Ruiz said his daughter told him by phone that her classes were canceled until at least May 6.
Officials said numerous U.S. schools, including St. Francis, would be closed for days. In California, St. Mel’s Catholic School in Fair Oaks, near Sacramento, was closed until at least Thursday while health officials determine if a seventh-grader has a flu linked to the outbreak. Near San Antonio, all 14 schools in the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District were closed for at least the next week after two students at a Cibolo high school caught the virus.
The mayor of Cibolo closed city parks and asked churches to postpone activities. The mayor of Schertz, meanwhile, asked residents to refrain from public gatherings, if possible. A judge in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, asked county employees who live in Guadalupe County and feel ill with flu-like systems to not report to work.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday that many New York victims are recovering, but that some family members of students also had flu symptoms, “suggesting it is spreading person to person.”
Gov. David Paterson said 1,500 treatment courses of the antiviral Tamiflu had been sent to New York City; it wasn’t immediately clear if hospitals were using the doses. Infectious-disease specialists, epidemiologists and disaster preparedness workers have been dispatched to New York to monitor and respond to possible flu cases.
St. Francis is the largest private Catholic high school in the nation, with 2,700 students. The school canceled classes on Monday and Tuesday in response to the outbreak.
Brother Leonard Conway, principal of St. Francis, said cleaning crews sanitized the school during the weekend, using heavy-duty disinfectant to cleanse desks, chairs, labs, offices and classrooms.
School officials realized something was wrong Thursday when about 75 students showed up at the nurse’s office complaining of fevers, upset stomachs and achy bones. The overwhelmed nurse’s office had to make students wait on chairs in the hallway for care.
The school notified the city Health Department, and more students became sick Friday. Many were taken to a nearby hospital, but none had to be admitted.
Students began falling ill after a group of friends returned April 19 from Mexico, where they spent six days lounging around the beach and pool during the day and hanging out in Cancun at night.
Esti Lamonaca, an 18-year-old senior who made the Cancun trip, could hardly speak Sunday because her voice was so hoarse. She spent several days battling a fever of nearly 103 and was wearing a mask to prevent the virus from spreading.
“I haven’t been out of my house since Wednesday and am just hoping to make a full recovery soon,” Lamonaca said. “I am glad school is closed because it supposedly is very contagious and I don’t want this to spread like it has in Mexico.”
In Ohio, a 9-year-old boy was infected with the same strain suspected of killing dozens in Mexico, authorities said. The third-grader had visited several Mexican cities on a family vacation, said Clifton Barnes, spokesman for the Lorain County Emergency Management Agency.
“He went to a fair, he went to a farm, he went to visit family around Mexico,” Barnes said.
The boy has a mild case and is recovering at his home in Elyria, in northern Ohio, authorities said.
At St. Francis, parent Jackie Casola said Sunday that her son Robert Arifo, a sophomore, told her Thursday that a number of children had been sent home because of illness. On Friday, he said hardly anyone was in school.
Robert hasn’t shown any symptoms, but some of his friends have, his mother said, and she has been extra vigilant about his health.
“I must have drove him crazy, I kept taking his temperature in the middle of the night,” Casola said.
Associated Press writers Josh Hoffner, Jennifer Peltz and Deepti Hajela in New York, Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles, Michelle Roberts in San Antonio and Meghan Barr in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report