NY Governor Declares Public Health Emergency
January 13, 2013

New York Declares Health Emergency As Flu Outbreak Continues

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

A statewide public health emergency was declared by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday, one day after federal health officials declared the flu outbreak has officially reached epidemic proportions in the US.

According to Reuters reporter Colleen Jenkins, the declaration means pharmacists can now administer vaccinations to more people. Cuomo´s office reported in New York alone, more than 19,000 cases of influenza had been reported so far this season — up from just over 4,400 during the entire 2011-12 flu season.

"We are experiencing the worst flu season since at least 2009, and influenza activity in New York state is widespread, with cases reported in all 57 counties and all five boroughs of New York City," Cuomo said, according to Reuters. Of those affected, 2,884 patients had been hospitalized to date with confirmed cases of influenza — more than double the total amount of all of last year, according to state health officials.

“Cuomo's executive order temporarily allows pharmacists to give flu shots to patients between ages 6 months to 18 years old. Typically, the state limits pharmacists to administering vaccinations only to people 18 and older,” Jenkins said. She added that the governor told state officials to “marshal all needed resources to address this public health emergency and remove all barriers to ensure that all New Yorkers — children and adults alike — have access to critically needed flu vaccines."

On Friday, AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe reported the flu was “widespread” in 47 states last week, an increase of six versus the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Only California, Mississippi, and Hawaii were states that did not report widespread flu.

“The number of hard-hit states fell to 24 from 29, where larger numbers of people were treated for flu-like illness. Now off that list: Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina in the South, the first region hit this flu season,” Stobbe said. “Recent flu reports included holiday weeks when some doctor's offices were closed, so it will probably take a couple more weeks to get a better picture, CDC officials said Friday. Experts say so far say the season looks moderate.”

Businesses have been feeling the effects of the epidemic, according to AP Health Writer Matthew Perrone. Due to a number of factors, including economic uncertainty throughout the US, many employees are hesitant to call in sick when they first experience symptoms, he explains, and many of those individuals wind up spreading the illness to their co-workers and colleagues.

As Perrone reports, “Many workers go to the office even when they're sick because they are worried about losing their jobs, says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an employer consulting firm. Other employees report for work out of financial necessity, since roughly 40 percent of U.S. workers don't get paid if they are out sick. Some simply have a strong work ethic and feel obligated to show up.”

“Flu season typically costs employers $10.4 billion for hospitalization and doctor's office visits, according to the CDC. That does not include the costs of lost productivity from absences,” he added.

Stobbe also notes the best defense against the flu epidemic is to get a vaccination. Experts report this year´s flu shot has been 62 percent effective against the strains circulating nationwide.

In addition, the AP medical writer advises using soap and warm water while washing your hands, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth if you´re not certain that you´re hands are clean, and keeping away from those who appear to have flu-like symptoms whenever possible.