Television camera crews and reporters were staked out at St. Francis Preparatory School on Monday, April 27, after the count of students testing positive for swine flu climbed to 28, with an additional 17 “probable” cases, according to the school’s principal.
In a late afternoon press conference outside St. Francis, whose doors were adorned with “Closed” notices, Brother Leonard Conway thanked the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg for their handling of the situation.
Accompanied by Congressmember Anthony Weiner – who praised the “professionals” at St. Francis for their “aplomb” – Conway commended the school’s “very proactive nurse” for notifying the DOHMH after close to 100 students visited her last Thursday and Friday.
Conway confirmed that 156 students went home sick over that two-day period and that 10 teachers had complained of “flu-like symptoms.” He also noted that “there was no pattern to the students who got sick,” with 9th through 12th graders falling ill.
Conway would not comment on whether or not any of the affected students were part of a contingent that spent spring break in Mexico, where an outbreak of swine flu recently claimed the lives of upwards of 100 people. He stressed that the vacation to Cancun was not a school-sponsored trip.
An effort to sanitize the entire school – “every chair, every office,” according to Conway – with heavy disinfectant began on Friday at 4 p.m. and was completed on Sunday around 8 p.m., he said. He added that the school’s administration will be meeting “to assess the latest developments” and hear recommendations from the DOHMH to determine whether or not to open the school’s doors on Wednesday.
Kenneth Hojas, 18, was playing handball at the courts near St. Francis Prep shortly before the press conference and said his brother Carlos, a Prep student, fell ill on Thursday. The 15-year-old nevertheless attended school on Friday but came home with a headache and shortness of breath.
“The ambulance had to take him to the hospital,” Kenneth said, adding that he was upset that the school even allowed his brother to go to class on Friday.
“If they knew what was going on, why would they have the school open on Friday?” Hojas said.
Sophomore Dillan Hogan, 16, dropped by St. Francis Monday afternoon hoping to retrieve his tennis racket – he was prohibited from entering the school – but admitted he was not feeling so brave last week.
“I was scared,” he said, noting that 10 students were missing from one of his Friday classes and that some students had complained of fevers and vomiting.
Hogan’s mother, Marluce, said she was “shocked” and “totally scared,” especially after relatives in Brazil phoned her upon seeing Dillan’s school on the news.
Hogan’s father, Daniel, experienced a similar sensation but said he is confident the school has the situation under control.
“You feel it in your stomach a little bit when you’re dealing with your children,” he said. “But the school’s looking out for their best interests.”
Read this related article to learn more about swine flu and its emergence in Queens.