Gov. David Paterson declared a state of emergency, saying a recent rise in swine flu cases has created a “disaster” and that certain provisions of state law needed to be set aside to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible.
The executive order Thursday means that far more health care professionals — including dentists, dental hygienists, podiatrists, pharmacists, midwives and physicians assistants — will be permitted to administer swine flu and seasonal flu vaccines with only brief training.
The declaration will help avoid overwhelming hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities with swine flu cases, according to Paterson’s order.
It also allows health centers in schools, which have been particularly hard hit, to vaccinate children and adults.
A week ago, the small Worcester Central School District in Otsego County, about 50 miles west of Albany, was the first district in the state to close because of flu. Although only two students had confirmed cases of the swine flu, a third of the enrollment and staff were out with flu symptoms. Most weren’t tested for the H1N1 virus.
The federal government has urged schools to cancel classes only as a last resort, but school officials across the country say they are being hit so hard and so fast by swine flu that they feel shutting down for a few days is the only option.
At least 351 schools were closed last week alone — affecting 126,000 students in 19 states, according to the U.S. Education Department. So far this school year, about 600 schools have temporarily shut their doors.
The number of closings this fall appears on target to surpass the roughly 700 schools closed last spring when the swine flu outbreak first hit.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that for the week of October 11-17, the latest available, influenza activity continued to increase. It said the number of doctor visits with flulike illnesses are much higher than usual, hospitalizations for laboratory confirmed flu is much higher than expected for this time of year and
“almost all of the influenza viruses identified so far are 2009 H1N1 influenza A viruses.”
Also on Thursday, New York officials said the number of vaccine doses is being increased. The federal government is ramping up availability of the vaccine to the state, allowing it to order twice as many doses as a week ago, a trend that’s expected to continue.
The executive order obtained by The Associated Press says at least 75 deaths in the state have been attributed to the swine flu.
“A disaster has occurred throughout New York state, for which the affected local governments are unable to respond adequately,” Paterson states in the order.
There was no immediate comment from Paterson on the order, which was dated Wednesday.
The order doesn’t require vaccinations of health care workers or other adults without their consent and it doesn’t require vaccinations of children without parental consent.
The order states that the World Health Organization has declared the swine flu a pandemic and President Barack Obama has declared a national emergency. Obama’s declaration is a precaution so if hospitals are overwhelmed, patients can be taken to other health care sites.