The First Draft: Will U.S. Ban Air Passengers with Swine Flu?
The answer is a resolute ‘no.’
Instead, the Obama administration hopes to combat infection aboard U.S. flights by encouraging hand-washing in the air. Dealing with sick passengers will be left to individual airlines, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show.
“They have that question with other people who show up and look like they’re sick and had it even before the swine flu was spoken about,” Napolitano said.
“What we’ve been meeting with the airlines about is making sure that hand-washing is easily accessible and that those kinds of things are available on planes for travelers.”
H1N1 infection is expected to balloon in the Northern Hemisphere as cooler weather sets in this autumn, raising the danger of major disruptions for businesses and governments as large numbers of workers call in sick.
That alone could pose national security problems, given that the U.S. government won’t have vaccines available until after infection begins to take hold.
Worst-case predictions suggest that between 30,000 and 90,000 people could die from the swine flu in the United States while up to 1.8 million flu patients could crowd U.S. hospital wards.
Advisers to President Barack Obama have asked the government to speed up the availability of vaccine. But vaccinations are not likely to be ready before October.
Meanwhile, that leaves hand-washing as the Obama administration’s frontline defense against swine flu’s spread. To promote the habit, Washington has turned to Sesame Street’s Elmo, the PBS children’s show character who has befriended decades of toddlers with his high-pitched voice, crayon and jingle bells piano playing.
“Come on! Wash your hands with Elmo! Wash! Wash! Wash!” the fuzzy red Sesame Street ‘monster’ says in a public service announcement released this week.
The same goes for those way up there in the Wild Blue Yonder.
Photo credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook (Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano)