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Monday, February 05, 2007

Pandemic Preps: Ohio Schools Sent Pre-Written News Releases

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- State health officials this month are distributing instructions to Ohio school administrators about what they should do and say if bird flu is discovered in the United States. They are also receiving pre-written news releases in the kits about what to tell the public. It is news everyone should hope we never hear.

For example, one of the "sample statements for school officials" says schools might be shuttered for up to six weeks. The news release for the way those bad tidings will be delivered goes as follows: "State/County/School officials have ordered the closure of schools as a result of the pandemic flu in State/County. Schools may be closed for an extended period of time (for example, up to six weeks.) We know this is a difficult time for our community and our hearts go out to those who are sick. We are working with health officials and will keep parents updated. Because pandemic flu is easily spread from person-to-person, children and adults should stay away from other people and groups as much as possible. Avoid large gatherings of people in locations such as homes, shopping malls, movie theaters or community centers."

That is what is supposed to be said when the pandemic is raging. This is the canned announcement that we can expect to hear when the first case of H5N1 virus turns up: "As expected, birds sick with the H5N1 bird/avian flu virus are now in the United States. It is important to know that, at this time, there are no human cases of bird/avian flu in the United States."

A complete version of the kit that is going out to school districts this month is available HERE, on the Ohio Health Department Web site. Reading through the pages online makes it clear officials are bracing for the worst. Closing schools for up to six weeks simply is unheard off.

The federal Centers for Disease Control has a comprehensive Web site with up-to-date information about avian flu, with maps showing different parts of the world where the virus has been found. There are descriptions of efforts to monitor the flu's spread, and scientific data about the development of vaccines. However, it seems clear that there will not be enough to inoculate everybody, and thousands of lives could be in the balance. That's the implied messages in the canned news releases. This looks serious.

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