Draft Plan Details Response for Pandemic Flu
A flu pandemic in the U.S. could result in massive disruptions, with as much as 40% of the country's work force staying home, according to a draft of the government's pandemic flu plan acquired by the Associated Press, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports. The 228-page draft version of the response plan, which has yet to be finalized and is scheduled to be released Wednesday, is based on a worst-case scenario of up to two million deaths in the U.S.
The plan says every segment of society must prepare, stating that "[t]he collective response of 300 million Americans will significantly influence the shape of the pandemic and its medical, social and economic outcomes." The plan adds, "Institutions in danger of becoming overwhelmed will rely on the voluntarism and sense of civic and humanitarian duty of ordinary Americans."
The plan says an outbreak could lead to a variety of restrictions on movement in and around the country, such as limiting the number of international flights and quarantining exposed travelers. It says that the government does not plan on closing the borders to fight the spread of the virus, partly because such a move would slow the progression of the pandemic by only a few weeks and because it would have a large impact on the economy and foreign affairs.
The plan says employers should have plans to keep workers at least three feet away from each other, while colleges should consider which dormitories could be used to quarantine the sick. It also says flight crews should have surgical masks to put on coughing travelers and calls a mandatory quarantine a last resort.
In a pandemic, public order could be disrupted, and governors could deploy National Guard troops or request federal troops to keep control. The military also could be used to enforce travel restrictions and distribute vaccines and medicines, according to the report.
HHS would head the government's interagency response effort, and the Department of Homeland Security would have a secondary role, assisting with the health response and with nonmedical support. The report outlines how every government branch would have to work with federal health officials to try to control a pandemic and prevent economic and societal damage.
Specific steps for government agencies will be released by early June (Pickler, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 5/2).
An unnamed administration official said the goals of the plan include ensuring that "people aren't coming and going from a workplace at the same time" and encouraging "people to stay at home" if they think they might be infected (Altman, New York Times, 5/3).
Infectious disease expert William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University questioned some aspects of the plan but said it does make clear that a virulent version of the flu that can be transmitted human-to-human might be impossible to contain. "They've told everyone ... they cannot keep the hurricane offshore," Schaffner said, adding, "The hurricane will make landfall" (Manning/Jackson, USA Today, 5/3).
While public awareness of avian flu has increased within the last year, few U.S. residents have made any preparations for an outbreak, according to a Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive poll, the Wall Street Journal Online reports. According to the survey of 2,029 U.S. adults, 65% are familiar with avian flu today, compared with less than 50% a year ago.
In addition, concerns about an outbreak are rising, with 44% somewhat concerned about the possibility of a pandemic, compared with 39% in 2005. Twenty percent of those surveyed are very concerned, compared with 12% last year.
However, few U.S. residents are preparing for the possibility of a pandemic, with only 7% taking steps advised by HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt to stockpile food, water and basic first aid. Only 5% have prepared a plan for how their families might cope with an outbreak (Bright, Wall Street Journal Online, 5/2).
Several broadcast programs reported on the avian flu plan:
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight": The segment includes comments from Michael Allswede, director of strategic medical intelligence at the University of Pennsylvania, and Rajeev Venkayya, special assistant to the president on biosecurity issues (Raddatz, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 5/2).
- APM's "Marketplace": The segment includes comments from Ann Beauchesne, executive director of homeland security at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Steven Ross, director of the enterprise risk services practice at Deloitte and Touche; and Rosslyn Stone with the firm Corporate Wellness (Wicai, "Marketplace," APM, 5/2). A transcript and audio of the segment in RealPlayer are available online.
- CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from Venkayya (Axelrod, "Evening News," CBS, 5/2). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NBC's "Nightly News": The segment reports on the recommendations of the plan (Bazell, "Nightly News," NBC, 5/2). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The segment includes comments from Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.); Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota; and Venkayya (Knox, "Morning Edition," NPR, 5/3). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The segment reports on how U.S. businesses are preparing for a potential avian flu pandemic (Malakoff, "Morning Edition," NPR, 5/3). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.