The flu season is hitting the region hard according to local health officials. People complaining of flu-like symptoms made up five percent of emergency room visits in New York City last week. The severity of the season also led Governor Andrew Cuomo to declare a public health emergency statewide – urging people who have yet to receive a flu shot to get one.
Despite the widespread warnings, New Yorkers are taking this latest health scare in stride going about their daily activities, like riding the subway and going to work, even when it means coming into close contact with people who might have the flu.
Karen Wilkins, 38, sat waiting for the 1 train on Sunday with her two wiggly sons, Noah, 6, and Joshua, 5. She knows the flu is going around, but she didn’t get a flu shot this year and neither did her sons.
“I’ve chosen not to,” explained Wilkins, since the last time she was vaccinated she remembers getting sick. Instead, she’s taking other precautions. Wilkins said she feeds her family a really healthy diet - with lots of greens and vitamin C. She also stays aware of her surroundings, like if someone on the subway sneezes, she’ll move.
“Because, I’m like, I don’t know what’s going,” Wilkins chuckled. If someone is coughing badly, “I cover my face or I make sure I Purell my hands.”
She also makes sure her boys scrub up every time they come home from school or after riding the subway. So far, she doesn’t know anyone who has come down with the flu yet.
Joseph Candelaria, 23, does. His 52-year-old mother is just getting over a week and a half bout of it complete with red, watery eyes, a runny nose and coughing. As an usher at the Broadway show Newsies, his Mom isn't the only sick person he's come across. Candelaria has seen audience members walk in to the Nederlander Theatre with boxes of tissue.
He did get a flu shot so he's not worried about catching the virus while handing programs to sniffling theatre-goers.
“It's all good, I mean because I'm the first person who touches them,” said Candelaria. “So I just give it to them.”
Even though Candelaria's comfortable working at a Broadway theater, he said he avoids movie theaters during flu season.
“You don't know if they might have coughed on their hand and wiped it on the seat because they didn't have a tissue on them,” Candelaria explained.
He said he’d go to a Broadway show because he knows how they clean the theatres after each performance. But even when a place is cleaned, that doesn't guarantee a person will be safe from the flu.
Health officials continue to urge people to get their flu shots and the executive order issued by Governor Cuomo over the weekend means for the next 30 days pharmacists can give those vaccines to anyone 6-months or older.
While some city pharmacies have run out of the vaccine temporarily, health officials expect new shipments to come starting Monday. For the latest information about where to get vaccinated in the city, visit www.nyc.gov/flu.
For people who do get sick, the best way to get better and stop the virus from spreading: stay home.