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Flushing leaders try to prevent panic

Flushing leaders called for calm, communication and greater city transparency Friday afternoon in reaction to borough parents bombarding already−taxed Queens hospital emergency rooms as swine flu fears ran rampant.

School closures and student absences have hit Flushing particularly hard in recent weeks, and state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D−Whitestone) and state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D−Flushing) gathered community leaders outside Flushing Hospital Friday to call on parents to stay calm amid the health crisis and the city to step up its outreach.

“That’s the scariest part of this, that people are really panicking,” said Martha Flores−Vasquez, a Democratic district leader in Flushing. “Education has got to be a key to how the city handles this. You’ve got to bring the community together and let people know what’s going on and what they can do.”

Meng, whose son and husband are both sick with the flu, said the city could be doing more to improve lines of communications between the city Health Department and residents.

“My husband went to the doctor this morning and the room was just packed. Everyone is asking for Tamiflu,” Meng said, speaking of the popular flu remedy. “I think the lines of communication could be better. We’re getting calls from parents telling us their schools are closed before we hear from the city. And I think when there’s a lack of communication, that’s when you get people panicking like this because they don’t know what’s going on.”

Stavisky said that while she can understand the concerns of parents, it is important to not overreact if a child or family member falls ill.

“What I would say to parents is if your child is sick, keep your child home,” she said. “Don’t send them to the library or somewhere else. Just keep them home.”

Vasquez said some schools are requiring doctor’s notes for a sick child to return to class, which she said has created problems for the uninsured and those who do not have a regular doctor.

“The city needs to provide a way for people to get treatment. There needs to be some initiative to address this on the part of the city,” she said. “But parents need to understand that things aren’t going to be as easy as they were yesterday. If somebody sneezes now, you’ve got to protect yourself from that sneeze.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

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