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Paterson, officials hold swine flu prevention talks

ALBANY - Gov. David A. Paterson and health officials began a series of public meetings Monday on how to prevent the spread of swine flu.

Speaking at a middle school here, Paterson and Dr. Richard Daines, the state's health commissioner, downplayed the effectiveness of school closures and prohibiting skin-on-skin contact - both used in last spring's outbreak. The pair also urged employers not to fire workers who stay home to care for themselves or sick children.

The town-hall meeting was the first of six to be held statewide between Tuesday and Sept. 8. The local session will be in Brookville on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in Hillwood Commons Lecture Hall on the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University. Paterson isn't expected to attend, but Daines and other officials will speak.

"Your government is going to take every possible means that we can think of to try and make sure this virus effects the fewest number of people," Paterson said, stressing the importance of residents finding out about the H1N1 virus.

More information about H1N1 can be found at or by calling 800-808-1987.

The governor advised residents to get the seasonal flu shot, avoid contact with ill people, wash hands frequently and stay home if you are sick.

But Maureen Athens, a mother of two and a teaching assistant in upstate Colonie, questioned whether her boss would understand her absence. "Is there going to be anything that's going to make sure I don't lose my job if I stay home with my kids?" she said.

Paterson replied that remaining at home was "helping the community." He urged employers to show "flexibility," saying firing someone for trying to prevent the spread of swine flu would be "unjust."

The virus, which has claimed lives, is active in New York. Daines said there had been "mini outbreaks" at summer camps. "We expect that once the schools open we will see it there again." Daines cautioned against closing schools, as happened in spring in Deer Park, Levittown, Valley Stream and elsewhere after kids came down with H1N1. "At that point you're sort of dispersing [the flu] out into the community. . . . You don't reduce" the spread, he said.

Asked about the effectiveness of prohibiting skin-on-skin contact as suggested by the Glen Cove schools, Daines noted swine flu is spread by droplets in the air that may or may not be on the skin.

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