In a recent discussion with the USA Today editorial board, Secretary Napolitano said:
You can speculate about a 1918-type situation, (but) the data suggest that we will have an outbreak more similar to what happened in the ’50s, or perhaps what happened in 1968. I prefer that we educate people about what we are more likely to experience: a heavy outbreak in the fall that has a focus on young people, including college-age and pregnant women. Then, we will focus on what we need to do to work our way through that, such as keeping schools open as much as possible.
That’s entirely reasonable, given what we know about the virus today — especially given how H1N1 is presenting in the Southern Hempishere during the winter flu season there. With rather rare exceptions, the new virus has been no more virulent than the seasonal flu of recent years.
But is the Secretary’s tone potentially too reasonable?
Focusing on those germ-factories — otherwise known as schools — makes a lot of sense. Great gobs of written guidance has been made available to school administrators. This is even more important than usual given the youth-oriented targeting of this virus. Most confirmed cases have involved individuals 19 years of age and younger. (See the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control H1N1 Risk Assessment)
But none of the teachers or school administrators I know had seen or heard of the pandemic plans until I sent them along.
In a joint op-ed published yesterday, Secretaries Duncan, Napolitano, and Sibelius (the three bears?) encourage,
Parents should talk to their employers and make child care arrangements in case their kids get sick. And if a school closes, learning shouldn’t stop. Schools need to create opportunities to learn online and work with parents to find ways for students to bring textbooks and other resources home. If you’re an employer, you should plan to get by with a reduced staff. You don’t want an employee who’s ill to spread flu in the workplace. If you’re a medical provider, you should plan to handle more calls and patient visits.”
All good advice. Is anyone listening?
At the NAFTA summit John Brennan, Deputy National Security and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, was considerably more severe in his tone:
“I think everybody recognizes that H1N1 is going to be a challenge for all of us, and there are people who are going to be getting sick in the fall and die… The strategy and the effort on the part of the governments is to make sure we do everything possible and we collaborate to minimize the impact, and make sure that the severity of the illness is kept at a minimum.” (More by Sam Youngman at The Hill)
What’s included in “everything possible”? Some are expressing concern.
In late July CNN reported on some DOD contingency planning for something more than a plus-up of the seasonal flu. Earlier this week Fox News reported that the prospect of military involvement in an H1N1 response is prompting angst from both left and right.
Well, someone is listening. But they are talking about the constitution, not the contagion.
This suggests a fully functioning civil immune system. Glad to see it and we are probably in for a veritable explosion of libertarian white blood cells. According to Josh Gerstein at Politico, “The Obama administration is quietly dusting off an effort to impose new federal quarantine regulations, which were vigorously resisted by civil liberties organizations and the airline industry when the rules were first proposed by the Bush administration nearly four years ago.” (See the current Executive Order 13295)
Depending on our personal angles, any of us can quibble with what is being said or proposed or planned. My quibble is for a bit more of John Brennan’s growl and a bit less of Janet Napolitano’s reassurance. But my “just right,” is probably too hard or too soft for you.
The biggest challenge today is less a matter of what is being said than what is being heard. I don’t perceive many are listening.
- Access the school recommendations. Please pass them along.
- Access the workplace recommendations. Please pass them along.
- Access the family preparedness recommendations. Print them out. Read them. Give them to your loved ones. Talk about the recommendations. Take action.
Do what you can today to be better prepared whatever unfolds over the next few weeks. Otherwise, an unexpected mutation in the virus could have us all sounding like the end of the story: “Goldilocks woke up and saw the three bears. She screamed, “Help!” And she jumped up and… ran away into the forest.”