By Liz Robbins


May 21, 2009 - The city shut two more school buildings in Queens on Wednesday and another charter school decided to cancel classes amid a sharp increase in flulike illnesses that brought the total to 30 closed schools across the four boroughs.

As the number of cases rose, worried parents flooded hospital waiting rooms with their children as officials tried to exercise caution in shutting more schools.

Since the swine flu virus first surfaced last month at St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows, Queens, which had 69 confirmed cases, schools have been a major incubator of the virus. After a brief respite the strain, formally known as H1N1, re-emerged, leading 24 city schools to close in the last week. In addition, six more private and parochial schools in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan elected to shut down because of the rising numbers of ailing students.

By Wednesday afternoon, the city closed P.S. 242 in Flushing and P.S. 130 in Bayside, a building that also includes part of P.S 993, which offers special education. The New York City Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries industries, which shares a building with a South Bronx elementary charter school also closed Wednesday. The charter school had closed on Tuesday.

Despite the 201 confirmed cases of the virus in New York City, most have been mild and there has been only one confirmed death from the virus, that of a 55-year-old educator. The funeral for Mitchell Wiener, an assistant principal at I.S. 238 in Hollis, Queens, who died of complications from swine flu on Sunday, was held this afternoon in Flushing.

I.S. 238 is the only school in the city where students — four of them — have confirmed cases of the new strain of virus. The criteria for closing a school because of concerns about swine flu has become a point of contention with educators and parents, and one that the city has yet to spell out.

“I know people would like there to be a perfect formula where you can push a button and decide,” Dt. Thomas R. Frieden, the departing city health commissioner, said at an afternoon news conference. “It has to do with how many kids are sick, for how long they’ve been sick, what proportion of the school that represents, how that’s changed from day to day. We’ve seen different patterns.”

The United Federation of Teachers has been monitoring absentism in the schools because of the flulike symptoms and said it planned to hold a news conference on Thursday to discuss its findings.

The effect of the increased school closings has become evident in the crowded hospital waiting rooms over the past few days, said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “While there are abnormal number of people going to the hospital, who are worried, virtually none, a very tiny percentage of them have any symptoms whatsoever,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

Alan Aviles, the chief executive of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, said that across the system, there has been a 20 percent increase in emergency room visits by adults and a 50 percent rise among children. The greatest volume of patients was at Elmhurst Hospital Center and Queens Hospital Center, Mr. Aviles said.

On Tuesday, a tent was erected outside of Queens Hospital to act as a field triage unit, “simply because there were so many parents,” Mr. Aviles said, though its was taken down on Wednesday.

The National Pediatric Center in Corona was packed a line of with parents and young children that spilled onto the sidewalk on Wednesday afternoon, and a half-dozen strollers were parked at the door.

Sandra Neira, 26, who wanted her son Manuel, 5, examined because of a cough and slight cold, said she was told she had a wait of a couple of hours.

Ms. Neira said her son’s school, P.S. 143, told her to have him examined and to return with a doctor’s note.

"It’s just a little cough," she said. "But it’s better to be careful."

Dario Centorcelli, a spokesman for Elmhurst Hospital Center, said the hospital was able to handle the volume.

“The range is probably from people coming in for precautions or people with low grade fevers, kids that may be sick for one reason or another,” Mr. Centorcelli said.

One child who was treated at Elmhurst Hospital did die, Mr. Centorcelli said, but preliminary tests returned Tuesday night from New York City’s Department of Health showed that the 16-month old infant, Jonathan Zamora Castillo, of Corona, Queens, did not have the H1N1 virus. As a precaution, tissue specimens were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to rule out the strain as a definitive cause.

As the virus continued to spread in schools, the mayor and health commissioner on Wednesday addressed concerns about the spread of the flu at Rikers Island, where there were four inmates with confirmed cases of the swine flu, and four more probable cases. Last weekend, some inmates had reported flulike symptoms. pending.

Although the mayor said that there was no indication the virus had spread at Rikers, the union for the corrections officers was wary. The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association had asked for the city to shut down the affected area of Rikers or at least move some inmates to other locations to isolate the sick and prevent transmission. In addition, it had wanted a complete sanitation of the facility.

But when the Department of Corrections did not acquiesce, the union threatened a lawsuit and on Tuesday filed a letter of complaint with the city Department of Labor accusing the Department of Correction of maintaining an unsafe working environment at Rikers.

“Our objective is to reduce the number of transmissions and to protect the correction officers,” said Richard Koehler, the chief counsel for the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, who said he intends to file the suit on Friday.

“We want a task force set up,” Mr. Koehler added. “We want independent medical people to do screening on the island; we don’t want to be sitting around without a plan.”

A spokesman for the Department of Corrections said it did have a plan in place, which includes screening every new inmate for symptoms, checking prisoners who seek medical attention for swine flu, and limiting the circulation of inmates in areas where any had been infected.

“I’m not going to comment on the complaint that they filed,” the spokesman, Stephen J. Morello, said. “I would say that we continue to take aggressive steps against the flu and we assess those steps on a day to day basis. This is all part of the plan we developed and implemented in close cooperation with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.