NY school open after swine flu scare

May 4, 2009 7:46:44 AM PDT
Students streamed into St. Francis Preparatory School on Monday morning, happy to return after an outbreak of swine flu but wary of close contact, and some equipped with hand sanitizer in their backpacks. Swine flu sickened perhaps as many as 1,000 people associated with the Queens high school, according to the city health department. The school had 45 confirmed cases.

"I'm feeling great now," said Ivy Buchelli, 16, who said swine flu was confirmed as the reason she had a fever, chills and body aches. "After the long break, I'm glad to see everyone else and how they're doing."

"I'm just hoping the school's clean," she added.

Fellow junior Paulina Janowiec, 17, said she also had been diagnosed with swine flu.

"It's a little nerve-racking, being back in school, knowing that there was a swine flu outbreak in school," she said. "But it's good to be back."

Despite their illnesses, both girls kept up with her homework through the school's Web site.

Green signs on the school's doors welcomed the students back. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who welcomed the students back, said New York City has 73 confirmed and six probable cases of swine flu. Of the 79 cases, three have no link to Mexico or St. Francis, the mayor said.

P.S. 177, a nearby public school that closed last week after some students came down with suspected swine flu, would remain closed until Wednesday, Bloomberg said.

St. Francis' principal, Brother Leonard Conway, said the children "have a lot of work to do" and were "excited about doing it." The students were taking Regents and Advanced Placement exams this week.

Even as St. Francis reopened, newly confirmed infections and school closures were reported around New York and in other states. Health officials in Syracuse said Sunday that the city's Ed Smith Elementary School would close for a week because of a probable case of swine flu involving a student with a connection to St. Francis. That brings the total number of "probable or confirmed" cases of the illness outside of New York City to 17, according to state health officials.

The Deer Park Union Free School District on Long Island announced Saturday it was closing six of its schools until May 10 because three students likely have swine flu. The students don't appear to have any connection to St. Francis and haven't recently traveled to Mexico, where the swine flu may have originated, according to a county health commissioner.

The majority of the flu cases in the state have been connected to St. Francis, New York City health officials said. A group of students from the prep school fell ill after traveling to Mexico for spring break.

Brandon Gratta, 15, a freshman at St. Francis, came to school with a small bottle of hand sanitizer at the urging of his mother, a nurse. In addition, he said he planned to wash his hands more frequently, even if he doesn't use the restroom, and especially before lunch.

Gratta, who was not sick and had no symptoms, said he would also heed his mother's advice not to come in close contact with students who appear sick or have colds.

He wasn't worried about being back because he said the school had flushed the air conditioning system and given the building a complete scrubdown, among other safety precautions.

Speaking through the school's public address system, Bloomberg thanked the students for their patience, adding, "It's always good to be back with your friends and back to studying."

Meanwhile, New Mexico officials announced Sunday that 14 schools in four towns were being closed for at least a week after the state's first swine flu case was confirmed. The New Mexico Activities Association also indefinitely suspended athletic and activity programs at participating schools across the state.

In Arizona, all 10 public schools in the border city of Nogales canceled classes this week after a student tested positive for swine flu.

Officials in several other states also announced plans to close schools where students were either confirmed or suspected to have swine flu.


Associated Press writers Marcus Franklin and Karen Matthews contributed to this report.


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