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Cuomo to Health Dept.: Counties need emergency funds to fight flu

The authorization by Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, will expand access to vaccinations, especially to those most vulnerable.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at a meeting

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at a meeting of Teamsters Local 282 in Lake Success on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. Cuomo has directed the state health commissioner to authorize emergency funding to New York's 62 counties in response to the rising number of flu cases. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directed the state health commissioner Thursday to authorize emergency funding to New York’s 62 counties in response to the overwhelming number of flu diagnoses, which are continuing to rise exponentially.

The latest state figures show a 35 percent jump in laboratory-confirmed flu cases and a 2 percent rise in hospitalizations statewide since last week.

All told, there were 15,753 confirmed influenza cases and 2,349 people hospitalized, according to the most recent figures available from the state Department of Health.

Those totals, reported Thursday, were the highest weekly numbers in both categories since reporting on flu statistics began in 2004 and exceeded the previous week’s record high of 11,683 confirmed cases and 2,221 hospitalizations.

“As flu diagnoses and hospitalizations continue to increase . . . this administration is doing everything in its power to protect New Yorkers from this especially durable strain of influenza,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The governor’s latest action — the third in three weeks — will help expand access to flu vaccines across New York and add to other recent measures issued by his office.

Cuomo’s move Thursday also directs local health departments to refocus their flu-protection outreach to vulnerable populations: day-care centers, nursing homes, senior centers and homeless shelters.

The aims are to reemphasize the need for flu vaccinations, provide targeted education about the signs and symptoms of the flu, and identify and assist key populations with low vaccination rates.

Last week, Cuomo said people should get vaccinated if they had not already done so.

On Jan. 25, he issued an executive order that suspended the state law restricting pharmacists from vaccinating children ages 2 to 18.

Since that executive order, more than 5,400 youngsters 2 to 18 have been vaccinated at pharmacies, the governor’s office announced Thursday.

[The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified H3N2, an A strain of influenza, as the primary virus causing illness in New York and beyond. The agency also said another A strain, H1N1, is in circulation as are B strains of flu. A strains infect humans and animals, but B strains affect only humans.]

“We need to make sure all New Yorkers understand how to protect themselves and their families and communities from this epidemic. From getting the flu shot to hand washing to covering your mouth when you cough,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement.

Because of the rising number of cases, Zucker has declared the flu an imminent threat to public health, which makes counties eligible for reimbursement for money spent on flu outreach, education and vaccination.

“Counties are provided a base grant for public health services, including immunization, communicable disease and public health emergency preparedness, and are then reimbursed at 36 percent of costs,” a spokeswoman for the State Health Department said in an email Thursday.

“If counties spend above their state budgeted amount for these activities, this will allow for reimbursement at an enhanced rate of 50 percent of the costs,” she said.

In addition to outreach efforts to vulnerable populations, Cuomo is directing the state health officials to host statewide conference calls and/or webinars in collaboration with the State Education Department.

The aim is to include school nurses and superintendents on school-based steps for influenza prevention and facility disinfection.

Suffolk Legis. Kara Hahn, meanwhile, said she was introducing legislation to require the County Health Department to collect data on adult deaths from influenza.

“Any death where the flu is a contributing factor we should know about it,” Hahn said.

Dr. James Tomarken, Suffolk Commissioner of Health, said that kind of data collection was not in the county’s purview.

“As a local health department, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services defers to the New York State Department of Health on matters regarding communicable disease reporting.” he said.

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