WASHINGTON, D.C. | May 7, 2009 -
Over the past few weeks, many parents and employers have been concerned with the spread of the H1N1 flu virus. And rightly so.
As most parents know, illnesses such as the flu can spread through a school almost as fast as an e-mail or a text message. It’s one of those facts of life that parents of school-age children have had to face for generations.
But the H1N1 flu is different because it can be deadly. And, with its original, exotic (and inaccurate) name of “swine flu” – it was natural for parents to become worried.
American employers have also been worried.
First and foremost, they are concerned about the health and well-being of their workers. But they are also wondering about how this virus might affect their ability to run their businesses.
They look at Mexico, where the government ordered a nationwide shutdown of all non-essential businesses for almost a week. In Mexico City alone, estimated losses were put at $88 million a day.
If something like that happened in the United States, it would certainly take a toll on working families. And, you do not have to be a financial genius to know it would not help America’s struggling economy.
People also can overreact when they hear about a virus. I’m sure many of us thought about buying face masks after seeing others wear them on TV. I’m also sure a few may have bought one already just in case.
Governments can overreact, too. Earlier this week, U.S. health officials reversed their recommendation that schools should close for as long as two weeks if a student catches the H1N1 virus.
Why did this happen? One of the reasons was that officials realized that closing schools would do little to prevent the spread of the disease in the first place.
But schools across the nation have done just that. In fact, The Washington Post reported yesterday that at least 726 schools have closed to stop the spread of the flu.
But the Post did NOT report that there are more than 100,000 elementary and secondary schools in the United States.
So that means less than 1 percent of schools have closed because of the flu.
This context would have been helpful because it would have contributed to a better understanding about the threat from this virus.
That’s what I hope our experts can provide today to this committee and the American public: a better understanding about H1N1.
Their information, calmly and accurately presented with context, will be a great help. We can learn more about this disease, its cause, and most importantly, the steps that can be taken in both our schools and places of work to prevent its spread.
Because at the end of the day, I believe we are all committed to the same goal of protecting our children and our co-workers.
To that end, I welcome our witnesses today. I look forward to hearing from them and learning more about this virus.
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