Swine flu at SKA and JCC in Oceanside


By Yaffi Spodek

Special to the web / Posted May 20, 2009 / Iyar 27 5769

A girl has been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, at the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in Hewlett Bay Park.

In an e-mail sent to parents on Tuesday afternoon, school administrators notified the HALB community of the health concern.

“The student was treated for the illness and Baruch Hashem [thank G-d], she is asymptomatic,” the message read. “She has been given medical clearance to resume normal activities and has done so without incident.”

Richard Hagler, the executive director at SKA, assured parents that the isolated case is not a cause for panic.

“The student is now back in school, just the same as everyone else,” he told The Jewish Star. “We are always very careful to make sure everything is cleaned properly, and we encourage parents to make sure kids take care of themselves and that they are clean.”

As per the directives of the Health Department, the school will continue to be open as usual, Hagler said.

“We have discussed this matter with the Nassau County Health Department and they have advised us that this student currently poses no risk to the health and safety of our SKA students and staff,” the letter continued. “Moreover, the Nassau County Health Department confirmed that there is no basis to consider closing SKA or any of our schools.”

Other local organizations are taking precautionary measures as well.

The Friedberg Jewish Community Center in Oceanside announced Wednesday that they were voluntarily closing their building on Thursday May 21, and Friday May 22 after finding out that one of their pre-school students had a confirmed case of the H1N1 virus. Though the child has not been in the building for the past nine days and the JCC received no additional reports of the virus, the building will be undergoing an extensive cleaning and disinfection during its closure.

“We feel it is important to be proactive, as we want all of our members and families to feel comfortable when they use our facilities,” said Arnie Preminger, President & CEO of the JCC in a statement, noting that the Health Department did not recommend closing the building.

In a letter sent to parents this week, HAFTR reported that none of their students have been diagnosed with the swine flu, and “the number of daily absences have not increased significantly to warrant a medical concern.” However, the letter urged parents to review sanitary habits with their children to prevent the spread of germs.

According to Dr. Hylton Lightman, a pediatrician in Far Rockaway, there is a flu virus affecting children in the community, but it is the regular strain, not the H1N1 virus.

"This whole thing has gotten out of proportion, a mass pandemonium that is totally unnecessary," said Dr. Lightman. "What is going on in the neighborhood is not dangerous, and there is no real concern for the Five Towns Far Rockaway area. As long as people exercise precaution and good hygiene, then there is nothing to worry about. Some local kids have been tested for the flu and it was confirmed that it was regular flu. But schools should be aware that if multiple students are absent from one class, the city should be told so that they can evaluate the situation."

According to the Nassau County Health Department, there are currently 38 confirmed cases of swine flu in Nassau County, while 13 new cases of the virus were confirmed in New York State Tuesday night.

“People should not be panicking regarding H1N1,” said

Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi at a press conference Wednesday. “People should be prepared, not scared... It’s very important that people take the proper precautions, which are the same things you would do for the regular seasonal flu.”

Those precautions include washing your hands and face on a regular basis, especially after contact with many people, covering your mouth and nose when sneezing, and seeing your doctor, Suozzi explained. The Health Department also strongly advises people to stay at home if they are feeling ill, for at least 7 days until their symptoms –– including runny nose, sore throat, cough or fever –– disappear.

Suozzi pointed out that approximately 35,000 people in the country die from the flu each year, including over 100 in Nassau County.

“There will be more cases identified, people will be hospitalized and some may die,” he warned. “But in general, it is a very stable situation and we feel comfortable that everything is under control. The important thing is not to panic and to take normal precautions... We are treating these cases similarly to the way we treat the seasonal flu.”

Of the 38 cases in Nassau County, most have been mild strains of the virus, with one more severe case involving a four-year-old whose family traveled to Mexico. She is hospitalized, and in “serious but stable condition,” said Suozzi.

Twelve of the confirmed cases are students in the Valley Stream school district, prompting the Valley Stream Memorial junior high school to close on Wednesday, with plans to re-open on Tuesday after the long Memorial day weekend. The Levittown school district is closing all of its schools from Thursday through Tuesday, as well, although there have been no confirmed cases in their district.

However, Suozzi emphasized that the decision to close those schools was made independently, by the leaders of each school district.

“We are not criticizing their decision, but we want to make it very clear that the closures are not something recommended by the Health Department,” he noted. “The decision was made specifically by the school district and it was not recommended by the Health Department... The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said we should not be closing schools unless the level of absenteeism makes it difficult to run the school district.”

Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Maria Torroella Carney highlighted that point as well.

“The virus is in the community, not in school districts,” she said at Wednesday’s press conference. “We cannot prevent it spreading by closing the school district because it spreads in the normal course of human activity.”