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St. Francis to prep students on flu

After being the epicenter of the swine flu outbreak in the city last spring, St. Francis Preparatory in Fresh Meadows is being extra vigilant this fall when it comes to preparing for a possible resurgence of the H1N1 virus.

There will be health assemblies on the first two days of school, Sept. 9 and Sept. 10, to address precautionary measures that can help to ward off swine flu, including washing hands, not sharing drinks or utensils and not coming into school if a student is not feeling well, St. Francis Principal Brother Leonard Conway said.

“We’re going to run similar messages on TV monitors throughout the building,” Conway said.

He added that information about swine flu will be incorporated into health classes for the school’s 2,700 students in the nation’s largest Catholic high school.

St. Francis was the first school in the city to report large numbers of students with swine flu symptoms and the city Health Department said 50 students and teachers were infected with H1N1. The outbreak occurred after the students had arrived home from a trip to Mexico, where the World Health Organization said the global pandemic originated.

All of the St. Francis victims made a full recovery and after nearly 10 days of being closed for cleaning, the school reopened and students returned to classes.

As of July, more than 900 New Yorkers had been hospitalized with H1N1 and 47 had died, including two Queens residents, according to city statistics.

Should massive numbers of students come down with swine flu, which city health officials have said is a possibility with an expected second wave of H1N1, Conway said they could use the school’s auditorium as a sick room. Last year numerous students feeling ill crowded the hallways outside the nurse’s office.

Conway said he was concerned the Health Department had not yet released a plan for school closings in the case of another round of swine flu, although Health Department officials said they expected such a document prior to school openings.

The U.S. Health Department has urged schools not to close as they did last year and instead encourage sick students to remain at home in lieu of closing the entire institution.

City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) issued a five-point plan at the end of July that addresses a school closure policy. Gioia said the city should specify the criteria for closing a school and communicate that information to school officials and parents.

As part of the proposal, Gioia called for the city to create a reserve of nurses that could aid schools in case of an outbreak.

“Swine flu took the world by surprise when it first hit last spring, and many families and communities taken up in its wake didn’t feel they had timely information to keep themselves safe and healthy,” Gioia said. “Now that we know it’s coming, with time to plan and prepare we can’t let that happen again.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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