"The outbreak of swine flu in Mexico has claimed at least 100 lives and effectively shut down the nation’s capital, Mexico City. More than 1,600 people are being treated in hospitals for flu-like symptoms throughout Mexico. Cases of the disease are popping up all over the world: Israel, New Zealand, Canada, Spain, and there have been 40 confirmed cases here in the United States, in California, Kansas, Ohio, New York and Texas.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano held an unusual Sunday press conference at the White House to declare a “national health emergency.” Meanwhile, the Health Commissioner for the European Union issued a statement urging Europeans to cancel travel plans to the United States and Mexico “unless it is very urgent.” The Associated Press reports that “Russia, Hong Kong and Taiwan said they would quarantine visitors showing symptoms of the virus amid a surging global concern about a possible pandemic.” And Japan, Thailand and Indonesia are installing thermal scanners to check people for fevers at key airports.
Now, here’s some perspective. Nobody knows how serious this may turn out to be. So far, there are more than 100 deaths, all of them in Mexico. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control, “Every year in the United States, on average 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu; more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and; about 36,000 people die from flu-related causes.” But this flu has mutated from three different strains of swine, avian and human flu, and that has health officials unnerved.
Having said all that, the reaction of the Obama Administration strikes me as odd. In the middle of the day yesterday, the Secretary of Homeland Security held a press conference to declare a national health emergency. What would you expect to happen in a national health emergency? Closing the border until we figure out why the Mexican strain is worse? Travel restrictions, like the EU is suggesting? Deploying thermal scanners like those in Japan?
So far, we’re doing none of that. All we’re being told to do is wash our hands and cover our mouths when we cough. That’s what we tell kindergarteners. By the way, we go into this potential pandemic with no Secretary of Health and Human Services, the top 18 positions at HHS vacant and no Surgeon General.
At least one member of Congress is demanding that we close the border. Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) issued a statement in which he wrote, “The public needs to be aware of the serious threat of swine flu, and we need to close our borders to Mexico immediately and completely until this is resolved. …I am making this announcement because I see this as a serious threat to the health of the American public and I do not believe this issue is receiving the attention it needs to have in the news.”
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