Opinion: It’s official! Obama declares an H1N1 swine flu national emergency. So what?


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President Obama declared an H1N1 swine flu national emergency today. (Full text below.) It even uses that scary word ‘pandemic.’

With the potentially serious illness spreading rapidly around the country, people who are not occupied being sick in the bathroom expect the government to be on the case. Officials say 46 states now have widespread cases, about 20,000 hospitalizations since April and 1,000 U.S. deaths.


Actually, the president declared the national emergency last night with his official signature. But who’s paying attention to anything but high school football on fall Friday nights? In politics and public communications, timing is crucial, and Friday nights are a time to release bad news.

So the White House held the announcement for release Saturday, usually a slower news day when a simple piece of proclamation paper will get more media attention like this, spilling over to the Sunday talk programs and possibly accomplishing two good things:

1) Perhaps persuade more skeptical Americans to get the vaccine that’s late making its way around the country (only some 11 million doses have been shipped so far) and that so many seem to have serious doubts about. A new poll -- see link below -- shows that 62% of adult Americans have no intention of getting the protection because they don’t believe the danger, don’t trust the government’s urgings or its assurances of safety.2) Show through strategic political communications that the Obama White House is right on top of the case from the very start. (Do the names Hurricane Katrina and George W. Bush ring a bell here?)

It looks and sounds good. And, therefore, it is good.

But the practical effect of the Democrat’s declaration has little effect on regular folks. It authorizes federal health officials to authorize hospitals to set up emergency healthcare operations in nonstandard ways and places (i.e. off-site treatment places to keep infected folks from infecting others). And it also waives certain federal bureaucratic yada-yada rules.

So, wash your hands again and go back to the game or waiting in line for the vaccine and sneezing into your arm instead of your hands.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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On April 26, 2009, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the ‘Secretary’) first declared a public health emergency under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. 247d, in response to the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus.

The Secretary has renewed that declaration twice, on July 24, 2009, and....

...October 1, 2009. In addition, by rapidly identifying the virus, implementing public health measures, providing guidance for health professionals and the general public, and developing an effective vaccine, we have taken proactive steps
to reduce the impact of the pandemic and protect the health of our citizens. As a Nation, we have prepared at all levels of government, and as individuals and communities, taking unprecedented steps to counter the emerging pandemic.

Nevertheless, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic continues to evolve.

The rates of illness continue to rise rapidly within many communities across the Nation, and the potential exists for the pandemic to overburden health care resources in some localities.

Thus, in recognition of the continuing progression of the pandemic, and in further preparation as a Nation, we are taking additional steps to facilitate our response.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including sections 201 and 301 of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) and consistent with section 1135 of the Social Security Act (SSA), as amended (42 U.S.C. 1320b-5), do hereby find and proclaim that, given that the rapid increase
in illness across the Nation may overburden health care resources and that the temporary waiver of certain standard Federal requirements may be warranted in order to enable U.S. health care facilities to implement emergency operations plans, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic in the United States constitutes a national emergency.

Accordingly, I hereby declare that the Secretary may exercise the authority under section 1135 of the SSA to temporarily waive or modify certain requirements of the Medicare, Medicaid, and State Children’s Health Insurance programs and of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rule throughout the duration of the public health emergency declared in response to the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.

In exercising this authority, the Secretary shall provide certification and advance written notice to the Congress as required by section 1135(d) of the SSA (42 U.S.C. 1320b-5(d)).

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-third day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.

/s/ Barack Obama

Related items:

Forget the rush on that H1N1 swine flu vaccine; 62% of Americans don’t intend to get it anyway

Virginia 3-year-old Katie Alms enjoys getting H1N1 flu vaccine Saturday. Credit: Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press