Opinion: How a president (Obama) and a governor (Calif.) appear to prepare for the H1N1 flu season


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Watch out for these little flu guys this fall and winter. (Not actual size.)

If an elected official is prepared for a certain kind of public emergency -- say a possible flu pandemic -- but no one in the public knows about all the preparations, is he/she really prepared?


In government and politics, the answer is no.

It is bipartisan media strategy SOP for politicians’ staffs to arrange for public briefings on stuff they already know, so that they can be seen knowing it by the people who elected (might reelect) them. Usually this involves a visit somewhere by the official to provide video visuals for news coverage.

And it can include pedantic advice on such things as, for instance, how to properly sneeze and what to do with a used tissue. (Hint: Do not talk to co-workers while sneezing and do not share used tissues.)

This was even the case before the name Katrina became a verb, as in to be Katrina-ed, by looking unprepared and inept.

Two prime examples today: President Obama in the Rose Garden talking about the upcoming H1N1 flu season. And California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a public health lab talking about -- oh, look! -- the very same thing.

We have what they both said below.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Remarks by President Obama on the 2009 H1N1 Flu National Preparedness

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Before I say a few words about the meeting we just had I’d like to mention some good news that came out today about our economy. For the first time in 18 months, our manufacturing sector has expanded, and the statistics used to measure manufacturing output is the highest it’s been in over two years.

This means greater production of transportation equipment like cars, and electronic ...

... equipment like computers and appliances, and it means these companies are starting to invest more and produce more, and it is a sign that we’re on the path to economic recovery.

There’s no doubt that we have a long way to go, and I and the other members of this administration will not let up until those Americans who are looking for jobs can find them. But this is another important sign that we’re heading in the right direction, and that the steps we’ve taken to bring our economy back from the brink are working.

Now, we just had a good meeting about our ongoing efforts to prepare this country for the H1N1 flu virus this fall. And I want to thank John Brennan, our CDC Director Tom Frieden, and Secretaries Sebelius, Napolitano, Duncan, and Locke, for all the good work that they’ve been doing to get us ready today.

As I said when we saw the first cases of this virus back in the spring, I don’t want anybody to be alarmed, but I do want everybody to be prepared. We know that we usually get a second, larger wave of these flu viruses in the fall, and so response plans have been put in place across all levels of government. Our plans and decisions are based on the best scientific information available, and as the situation changes, we will continue to update the public.

We’re also making steady progress on developing a safe and effective H1N1 flu vaccine, and we expect a flu shot program will begin soon. This program will be completely voluntary, but it will be strongly recommended.
For all that we do in the federal government, however, every American has a role to play in responding to this virus. We need state and local governments on the front lines to make antiviral medications and vaccines available, and be ready to take whatever steps are necessary to support the health care system.

We need hospitals and healthcare providers to continue preparing for an increased patient load, and to take steps to protect healthcare workers. We need families and businesses to ensure that they have plans in place if a family member, a child, or a co-worker contracts the flu and needs to stay home.

And most importantly we need everyone to get informed about individual risk factors, and we need everyone to take the common-sense steps that we know can make a difference. Stay home if you’re sick. Wash your hands frequently. Cover your sneezes with your sleeve, not your hands. And take all the necessary precautions to stay healthy. I know it sounds simple, but it’s important and it works.

Finally, for people who want to learn more about this virus, please go to, or talk to your doctor.
I want to commend every member of our team. I think we’ve done an extraordinary job in preparing for this flu outbreak. We anticipate that there will be some issues coming up over the next several months.The way it’s moving is still somewhat unpredictable, but what I’m absolutely confident about is that our team that’s assembled here has done an extraordinary job in preparing for whatever may happen.

So we appreciate all of you for being here, and I want to publicly again thank you for all your extraordinarily hard work. All right. ###

News Release from the California Governor’s Office:

Gov. Schwarzenegger urges Californians to prepare for upcoming flu season; visits state public health laboratory as H1N1 preparations continue.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today urged Californians to prepare for the upcoming flu season during a visit to California’s state-of-the-art Richmond public health laboratories and, along with his Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim Belshé and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director Dr. Mark Horton, launched the website ( to register doctors, clinicians and other professionals who will provide vaccinations for the H1N1 virus.
“California has been preparing for the possibility of a flu pandemic for years so we stand ready to combat what could be a very severe flu season with the threat of H1N1,” Schwarzenegger said.

“The state of California is taking H1N1 very seriously, and I urge every Californian to take it seriously too. We can all take important precautions to prevent getting sick or spreading the flu virus including covering your cough, washing your hands frequently and staying home when you are sick.”

The Richmond public health laboratories played a critical role, both in California and nationally, in monitoring and understanding the nature of the H1N1 virus, also known as the swine flu. It was the first state public health laboratory in the U.S. to do H1N1 confirmatory testing, allowing California’s health leaders to follow developments quickly.

The laboratories are responsible for conducting screening and confirmatory testing, providing guidance to other labs in California, and monitoring the virus for changes. They play a critical role in the state’s overall public health emergency response system.

State public health and emergency response officials have been planning for the further escalation of the disease and the rollout of a vaccination program.

This includes expanding surveillance to detect increased pandemic activity, continuing development of clear guidelines for the public, working with local health departments to ensure healthcare facilities can respond to a surge in the need for patient care, and strengthening communication lines with medical providers and the public to get out information. CDPH will continue to work with federal and local partners on a vaccination program in California.

The vaccination website,, will be administered by CDPH and will allow doctors, clinics and others that want to provide vaccinations to register necessary information with the state to be able to get a supply of H1N1 vaccine. As vaccines are made available, CDPH will make the list of providers public on its website at

Gov. Schwarzenegger also called on Californians today to do their part by taking steps to slow the spread of the virus and prepare for the upcoming flu season.

“Each of us should be taking action now to prevent and prepare for the spread of H1N1,” Schwarzenegger said. “Businesses need to be prepared that employees will not be in the office and parents need to plan for kids to be home from school. Everyone must do their part to limit the spread of the H1N1 virus.”

Everyday actions that can be taken to help protect against and prevent the spread of germs that cause the flu include:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. (Editor’s note: The feds advise sneezing into the crook of your arm.) Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
• Stay home if you are sick for seven days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. This is to keep from infecting others and spreading the virus further.

The H1N1 flu virus has the potential to sicken millions of Californians in the months ahead, with as many as 1 in 4 Californians getting ill with the H1N1 flu. Since it was first detected last spring, the virus has continued to spread through the summer, taking the lives of more than 100 Californians.

Further information about H1N1, including prevention tips and the latest information about the development and distribution of a vaccine, is available on the CDPH website at or by calling 1-888-865-0564. ###
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