Medical commissioner refused to provide information regarding the deaths of two children who had the flu.
New York City’s best health official stonewalled queries Tuesday about two children’ deaths from the flu while touting a four-year-old paid unwell leave laws. Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the city health commissioner, refused to give details about either of the children whose deaths the Division of Health confirmed Monday, citing privacy concerns.
Bassett kept mum even though the NYPD recognized one of the kids as 8-year-old Amely Baez of Elmhurst, Queens. Baez was pronounced dead at Elmhurst Hospital early Monday morning, two days after she was diagnosed with the flu, the NYPD said.
The health commissioner said the Department of Health wouldn’t have released those details, even though the kids’ deaths were a tragic local milestone in a nationwide flu outbreak that has sickened more than 36,000 persons across New York State. Baez and another yet-unidentified child were the first children this season killed by the flu in New York City, bringing the statewide pediatric death toll to three.
“It has to do with our obligation to protect people’s personal medical info,” Bassett told reporters during a Tuesday afternoon news conference. “Our Health Department is the proud repository of a great deal of info that helps us understand the health of our city, but it also gives us the obligation to protect people’s privacy.”
Asked why police were nonetheless able to give details about one of the deaths, Bassett deferred to the NYPD.
“All I can do is reiterate that the Health Department takes very seriously its responsibility to protect private medical info, and we will not be providing any further details on this tragedy of two children who have died of the flu,” she said. “And we don’t provide that information in general.”
The Police Department publicly identifies people whose deaths are under investigation. As well as homicide victims, as long as the family has been told of the death, an NYPD spokeswoman, Sgt. Jessica McRorie, said in an email.
The city’s main reason for calling Tuesday’s news conference was to remind sick New Yorkers they can stay home from work beneath the city’s paid sick keep law, in April 2014 which took effect. For almost four years it offers guaranteed most employees in the town up-to 40-hours of paid sick period a year.
Influenza has killed 53 children nationwide since October in the most active flu season since the 2009 swine flu outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Four kids had died in New York City by this point in the flu season last year, Bassett said. Two more died before the season ended in May, she said.
Bassett wouldn’t say whether Baez or the other child had gotten flu shots. But it’s likely they didn’t: “In general, not speaking to these individual cases, we see very few children who have fatal flu have been vaccinated,” she said.
Promoting the sick-leave policy was part of health officials’ push to get people sick with the flu to stay home and avoid infecting others. Bassett also urged New Yorkers to ward off the virus with a flu shot as it continues to spread.
Lots of parents and kids have been heeding officials’ warnings this year. About 753,000 kids and teens younger than 19 had gotten flu shots from the start of the season through Jan. 31, some 59,000 more than last year, the Department of Health says. About 35 percent more people in that age group got vaccinated in January than in the same month last year.
Adult vaccinations spiked by 164 percent last month compared to January 2016. The department says, though part of that increase is because of increased reporting from flu shot sites.
The flu killed 2,094 New Yorkers in 2015, the most recent year for which numbers can be found. That’s a lot more than homicides, car crashes and medication overdoses combined for that whole year.
“That is a deadly serious crisis and we have to combat it about many fronts,” Town Councilman Tag Levine (D-Manhattan) Levine said Tuesday
Here is a map showing where one can get yourself a flu shot. The city’s public hospitals present them for free for all those without insurance, Bassett stated.