Jewish community organizations have been posting up-to-the-minute information about the swine flu epidemic this week, and as of Monday there were no known cases of the virus reported by any Jewish school or institution.
As word of the outbreak spread last week the Secure Community Network sent out a memo and materials Monday provided by the Centers for Disease Control to hundreds of Jewish institutions, including federations and Jewish community centers. SCN has an existing partnership with the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security.
The memo gives details on the public health emergency that was declared over the weekend, and provides a list of symptoms and other information about the flu. It also points out that a “public health emergency should
not be cause for alarm or panic but rather heightened awareness.”
Information is available at www.scnus.org.
Later in the week, Agudath Israel of America’s division of education affairs sent out a question-and-answer sheet prepared by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and a sample letter to parents, prepared by the New York State Education Department, to more than 600 yeshivot and day schools.
Similar information has been disseminated in the past about measles, mumps and Shigella, the organization said.
In an interview on Monday, Deborah Zachai, Agudah’s director of education affairs, said she was not aware of any day schools or yeshivot closing as a result of the outbreak.
“We have not heard of any incidents,” said Zachai. “As far as I know all the schools are staying open. We are monitoring the situation as it arises.”
David Pollock, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, said he was continuously posting information from health authorities about the epidemic onto the agency’s emergency planning Web site, http://www.jcrcny.org/security, including how to recognize symptoms of the disease, also known as H1N1, precautions and recommendations for organizations and schools. A recent update concerned the CDC’s recommendation that people wash their hands long enough to sing the song “Happy Birthday” twice, rather than doing a simple rinse.
“We are advising people only to close schools in consultation with the Department of Health in New York City or in the county of jurisdiction,” said Pollock.
“If there is a suspected case they should be in contact with health officials, which we would be happy to arrange.”
Pollock said he had heard some concern that Jewish families who spent Passover in Mexico, where the disease originated, might spread the disease in their communities. But he said, “If they were in a kosher resort, there is not much contact with those who might be infected.”
To discourage infection in the workplace, Pollock recommended that employers announce a sick leave policy for those who have flu symptoms, perhaps offering additional sick days to employees whose leave has expired.
“Organizations should review their sick leave policy or if there is an emergency, have a plan,” said Pollock. Individuals and families, he added, should also ensure that several days of groceries and supplies are in the home so they would not be compelled to leave if they feel sick.
In Israel, senior government officials decided last week to order examinations of any arrivals from Mexico at all points of entry into Israel. The officials also agreed that Israel would increase its stock of medicines for the virus, regardless of budgetary implications.
The Health Ministry on Thursday announced it would raise the pandemic alert level to 5 on a scale of 6, echoing a similar decision by the World Health Organization.
As of Monday there were four confirmed cases of the virus in Israel. Several other Israelis were hospitalized with possible cases.
A 20-year-old Tel Aviv woman was confirmed as having the virus Sunday after being quarantined the day before with flu-like symptoms. Other travelers on the woman’s flight from Mexico, through Madrid, have been asked to remain home for a week as a precaution.
In addition, a 34-year-old Israeli man who recently visited Mexico was hospitalized at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center Saturday with a confirmed case. His partner, 27, is under quarantine with symptoms but has not been confirmed as having the virus.
Also Sunday, a Jerusalem day care center was closed on the advice of the Health Ministry after a 3-year-old girl who recently arrived in Israel from Mexico was admitted to a Jerusalem hospital with symptoms.
The two Israelis who tested positive for the virus last week both were released from the hospital after fully recovering.
The kibbutz movement decided over the weekend not to take any more volunteers from Mexico for now, Israel’s daily Haaretz reported.
An Israeli heath official apparently insulted the Mexican ambassador to his country by suggesting the virus be called “Mexican flu.”
Deputy health minister Yakov Litzman, a member of United Torah Judaism, said earlier this week that the name “swine flu” should not be used as it contains the name of an unkosher animal.
But the Mexican envoy, Frederico Salas, and the Jewish state’s envoy to Mexico, Yosef Livne, both lodged official complaints Tuesday to the Israeli Foreign Ministry protesting the term.
A Foreign Ministry official told the French news agency AFP that Salas “was offended” by the term “Mexican flu.”
“Israel has no intention of giving the flu any new names,” the official said. “It was nothing more than a slip of the tongue.”
JTA contributed to this report.