State Health Commissioner Holds Meetings in Buffalo, Rochester to Inform Public on Preparations for Response to Novel H1N1 Flu

3rd and 4th Stops of H1N1 Preparedness Town Hall Meeting Tour

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 2, 2009) - State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today was joined by state officials from the State Education Department (SED) and the State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) at town hall meetings held in Buffalo and Rochester to brief local officials and the public on preparations for the expected resurgence of novel H1N1 influenza this fall.

The town hall meeting in Buffalo was held at Public School 192 Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. The Rochester meeting was held at Monroe Community College.

The meetings were the third and fourth of six regional public information town hall meetings DOH is conducting across the State. Commissioner Daines was joined by Jean Stevens, Associate Commissioner for Instructional Support and Development at the State Education Department (SED) and John Gibb, Director of the State Emergency Management Office (SEMO).

On Monday, Governor David A. Paterson kicked off the "H1N1 Preparedness Town Hall Meeting Tour" at the Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle School in Albany. The second Town Hall Meeting was held Tuesday at Jamesville-Dewitt High School in Syracuse. The regional meetings are intended to update local officials, schools and residents on the State's actions to limit the impact of novel H1N1 flu on the public's health.

"Nothing is more important than the health of our families, especially our children. We have aggressively prepared for a return of the novel H1N1 virus this fall, and New Yorkers should be confident that their government is doing everything it can to keep their children and families safe and healthy," said Governor David A. Paterson. "Over the last several months, State agencies have developed a comprehensive plan to minimize the effects of the virus and are implementing those measures. Our communities, particularly our schools, are prepared to handle any potential outbreak."

In the coming weeks, DOH will launch a vaccination campaign for seasonal influenza targeted to all New Yorkers as well as an H1N1 flu vaccination campaign, which initially will be targeted to individuals in groups considered by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to be at highest risk for complications from the flu. As more vaccine is produced, New Yorkers not in those priority groups will also have access to the vaccine. New York's county health departments will play an integral role in implementing the State's vaccination campaign this fall.

"With Governor Paterson's leadership, New York State is coordinating a strong science-based response to the novel H1N1 flu based on the best information available today," said Commissioner Daines. "This response is a team approach that includes federal, state and local partners, the health care provider community, schools, local public health departments, employers, and all New Yorkers."

Commissioner Daines also discussed new State guidance to schools, outlining ways that schools can reduce exposure to novel H1N1 and limit transmission of the flu through school and community-based measures. On Monday the State issued updated school guidance on novel H1N1 influenza for the 2009-10 School Year. The guidance is available at http://www.nyhealth.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/h1n1/docs/2009-2010_k-12_school_guidance.pdf.

"New York faces many challenges this year but none is more important than keeping our children healthy and ensuring that our children's education will not be disrupted by this flu," said Carole Huxley, Interim Commissioner of the State Education Department.

"State agencies continue to support the State's comprehensive pandemic flu plan and are working closely with the Department of Health to ensure their readiness for the upcoming flu season," said John R. Gibb, Director of SEMO. "But the basis of preparedness lies with the individual. Every family should have a plan and discuss it with their children. Know what to do about the flu."

Commissioner Daines outlined recent State actions, including:

  • On July 28, DOH, SEMO and the Disaster Preparedness Commission briefed all state agencies on plans for responding to the return of novel H1N1 flu this fall and winter.
  • On August 7, DOH Commissioner Daines met with local health commissioners and public health directors to discuss the coordination of State and county response efforts.
  • Commissioner Daines formally declared the novel H1N1 influenza a threat to public health in New York State. Under the declaration, the State is permitted to increase aid reimbursement to local health department for the costs of public health emergency measures. The additional funding will ensure that local health departments have the resources they need to provide vital health services and mount a strong response.
  • DOH continues to brief health care providers, county health departments, insurance plans, pharmacies, long-term care facilities and others about planning assumptions for the return of novel H1N1 flu.
  • DOH has met with professional medical associations to discuss how to make the novel H1N1 flu vaccine available to health providers, among other steps that should be taken to combat the virus.
  • DOH is meeting with pharmacy associations to enroll pharmacies in the State's vaccination effort.
  • DOH has issued clinical guidance for a number of health care settings, putting guidelines and protocols in place to best respond to novel H1N1 flu.
  • DOH is conducting a statewide public awareness campaign and distributing educational materials about novel H1N1 influenza to the public.
  • Commissioner Daines and former State Insurance Department Acting Superintendent Kermitt J. Brooks wrote to all State-regulated insurance plans to enlist their help to educate their providers and clients about influenza and assure all New Yorkers that they have access to the seasonal flu vaccine; that priority groups have access to the novel H1N1 influenza vaccines first, then other New Yorkers as more vaccine is available; as well as access to antiviral medications.

Commissioner Daines reminded New Yorkers to practice the simple precautionary measures that have been recommended since the novel H1N1 flu first emerged in New York last spring. Those measures include washing hands frequently, avoiding people who are ill, and staying home from work or school when sick.

Future stops of the "Novel H1N1 Influenza Town Hall Meeting Tour" include:

  • Thursday, September 3, in Brookville: 10:30 a.m. at C.W. Post Campus, Long Island University; and,
  • Tuesday, September 8, in Lake Placid: 10:30 a.m. at the Lake Placid Hilton.

More information about novel H1N1 flu and New York State's plans for responding to the flu is available at www.nyhealth.gov . New Yorkers with questions about the flu can also call DOH's 24-hour hotline at 1-800-808-1987.