New York City Mayor: Many Sick People Have Not Been Tested

By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 30, 2009; 2:50 PM

NEW YORK, April 30--Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a news conference Thursday that the city's tally of 49 confirmed cases of swine flu does not reflect the actual number of people taken sick with the virus.

Most of the hundreds of ill students at St. Francis Preparatory School, the epicenter of the outbreak here, have not been tested for swine flu, Bloomberg said.

"If we went and tested all of the students at St. Francis, we'd have hundreds of cases," Bloomberg said. "We know what they've got and we'd just be tying up resources."

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the city's health commissioner, said efforts are focusing on identifying new clusters. As a new group becomes sick, he said, city officials assess whether to take cultures, and may send a team to homes or schools.

Health officials, seeking to determine whether the virus is changing, have taken cultures of people who had become ill after visiting sick people at home, Frieden said.

An online questionnaire among students at St. Francis showed that most were sick at the same time with the same symptoms, and some had spread the illness to family members, he said.

In a city where millions of people rely on the subway every day, Bloomberg offered reassurances in reaction to Vice President Biden's recommendation to stay away from public transportation and airline travel.

"I took the subway here, I take the subway every day," said Bloomberg. "This flu does not seem to be taking over the city. There's no sense that being in a confined space would increase the risk dramatically." He also said there was no need for New Yorkers to wear masks.

He then reiterated instructions: People who feel sick should stay home. Everyone should cover the mouth when coughing or sneezing and wash hands frequently.

City pharmacies have experienced some shortages of the antiviral drug Tamiflu, and drugstores have run low on hand sanitizer. A company plans to give out 400,000 hand wipes on city streets on Friday.

Frieden said that the city has made preparations for pandemics, and has plans ready, if necessary, for limiting public gatherings and closing schools. But he emphasized that this is not currently necessary.

Bloomberg said he expects the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to soon confirm swine flu cases connected with a second school, PS 177, a special education school located behind St. Francis Prep. He also said there had been a high number of absences at another Queens school, PS 21, but health officials have not documented the flu there.

Meanwhile, state health officials said Thursday they had identified five more probable cases of swine flu outside the city, bringing being tested at federal labs to eight.

Richard Daines, the state health commissioner, said on Thursday that two Long Island cases are connected to St. Francis Prep, and three other cases, in Orange, Monroe, and Chautauqua counties, are connected to travel in Mexico.

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