Swine Flu New York
Three Queens schools were ordered closed for a week after an assistant principal at Intermediate School 238 in Hollis was hospitalized with the city's first serious case of swine flu.
Mayor Bloomberg said 56-year-old Mitchell Wiener was on a ventilator and critically ill.
Sources said he was near death at Flushing Hospital.
Officials closed IS 238, IS 5 in Elmhurst and Public School 16 in Corona - all hit with a rash of sicknesses and absences - as a precaution starting today.
The 4,475 affected students are due back in class next Friday. Many of the students at the schools are in special-education classes.
Wiener's illness raised fears that the H1N1 virus - which has spread to 34 countries, sickening nearly 6,672 and killing 70 - may have mutated into a more severe form never before seen in New York.
Wiener's family huddled Thursday night in the "pastoral care" room, where clergy members console family members.
Mayor Bloomberg told a City Hall press conference there was no evidence swine flu is "worse than normal influenza. ... In a city of 8.4 million, there might be a lot of people who have it."
He acknowledged that checks at city hospitals have shown a higher-than-usual rate of visits lately.
Wiener may have been hit hard by the virus because of "preexisting conditions," Bloomberg said.
At IS 238, students were pulling for the beloved educator.
"He's a cool guy," said Tyriek Barrow, 14, an eighth-grader from Hollis. "He looks out for the students. If they need anything, like a pencil sharpener, he'll give it to them and say, 'Give it back at the end of the day, and don't lose it.'"
Another eighth-grader, Steven Norris, 14, admitted he "used to get in trouble" and had detention with Wiener. "He used to order pizza for us. He was always cool. I'm kinda scared because people said if your immune system isn't healthy enough, you could die."
An education source said the school closings were ordered because there were clusters of flulike symptoms among students.
The source said the student absentee rate at IS 238, which normally is about 5% or 6%, had tripled to 16% Thursday.
"It's been mounting slowly all week," the source said.
"Too many kids were starting to get sick, so they had to close the schools. They got hit hard and fast. We thought this was done, but this week it came back with a vengeance."
In addition to Wiener's case, IS238 - the Susan B. Anthony School - has had four students with swine flu and 50 more with flulike symptoms since May 6.
PS 16 reported that 29 students went to the nurse's office with flulike symptoms Thursday, while 241 students were absent.
Students at IS 238 told reporters Wiener had been out for several days and that more kids than usual were absent this week.
Gov. Paterson said the state is monitoring the outbreak: "We encourage everyone to remain alert, rather than alarmed."
Thursday's closings came a week after St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows, the school with the most confirmed cases of swine flu, reopened after being shuttered for a week.