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Posted: Thursday, December 5, 2013 10:30 am

Public union sues state over flu shot or mask mandate

The Public Employees Federation on Nov. 26 filed a lawsuit challenging the state Health Department’s requirement that healthcare workers either get flu shots or wear surgical masks when dealing with patients during flu season. The union claims the demand that unvaccinated workers wear masks is “irrational, unduly burdensome and unproven in preventing the spread of flu from an asymptomatic health care worker to a patient.”

The Health Department directive that workers who have not gotten flu shots wear masks came down after the union won a restraining order against a prior demand that all workers get vaccinated. The PEF says the mask requirement is just a backdoor effort to mandate shots.

The union says in its lawsuit that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend surgical masks to stop the spread of the flu and that wearing one can make it difficult to communicate with patients who may fear the device or believe that its presence indicates their healthcare provider must have a serious disease they could catch.

The CDC says all people over 6 months old should get shots, and that the flu kills anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 Americans annually.

‘Knockout game’ gets a bit closer to Queens

The latest potential victim of the so-called “knockout game” was assaulted Nov. 26 on Wortman Avenue in East New York, a couple blocks northwest of the Spring Creek Towers housing complex, formerly called Starrett City.

The victim was a 76-year-old woman who was hit in the head from behind by an unknown assailant at about 11:35 a.m., according to police. She was treated at Brookdale Hospital and released.

“Knockout game” is the term used for assaults in which the goal appears to be to knock the victim unconscious with one blow and robbery is not the motive. Many victims are elderly, many Jewish. The assailants often post video of their attacks online, according to reports. The Daily News said the Nov. 26 incident, which occurred shortly after a rally against the “game” was held nearby, was the 10th in the city. Others have occurred in areas such as Crown Heights and Borough Park.

Whether the “game” is a growing trend or just something that is getting more attention in the press of late is an open question. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told the media on Nov. 22 that police are trying to determine whether it is “a real phenomenon,” while state Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) says it is, and that it constitutes “senseless violence” unlike anything he has seen in his entire life.

De Blasio names team to oversee pre-K plan

Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday the creation of a “working group” of early childhood experts to guide his plan to put all 4-year-olds in full-day pre-kindergarten.

The six members are Jennifer Jones Austin of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Elba Montalvo of the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Josh Wallack of the Children’s Aid Society, Sherry Cleary of the City University’s Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, Gail Nayowith of SCO Family Services and Nancy Kolben of the Center for Children’s Initiatives.

They are charged with “developing a roadmap” for implementing pre-K for all next September, de Blasio said. That would increase enrollment from 20,000 children to 68,000.

De Blasio wants the state to raise income taxes on city residents earning more than $500,000 to pay for the program, along with afterschool services for middle schoolers, so he needs the Legislature’s approval. Asked by the Chronicle Tuesday if he has an alternate funding plan in case his request is denied, his transition team did not respond by press time.

News intern wanted

The Queens Chronicle seeks a newsroom intern to do reporting two days a week for 12 weeks. For details, email a resume and at least two writing samples to PeterM@qchron.com.

— compiled by Peter C. Mastrosimone

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