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Remarks by Secretary Napolitano at Today's Media Briefing on the H1N1 Flu Outbreak

Release Date: 
April 30, 2009

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Contact 202-282-8010
Washington, D.C.

Secretary Napolitano: Last night we heard President Obama speak directly to the country about the H1N1 virus. The President made clear that the number one priority is the safety of the American people. That's our focus and will continue to be our focus throughout the duration of this outbreak. Every action we are taking is meant to stop the spread of the virus and to mitigate its effect on our communities. Our decisions are being made based on the best science and best epidemiology that we know, and that is informing all of our decisions here.

Prioritized states are now receiving antivirals. And let me—there has been some confusion about the difference between a vaccine and an antiviral. A vaccine is something that one takes to prevent the occurrence of a disease. An antiviral is something one takes after you've already become sick.

We have stockpiled in this country 50 million courses of the right kinds of antivirals for this particular flu, Tamiflu and Relenza—50 million courses. In addition, the states have another 23 million courses stockpiled, and the Department of Defense has a number of millions of courses stockpiled. From the national stockpile, we're already moving Tamiflu and Relenza out to the states where the priority—to states that have confirmed incidents of disease, and the complete deployment of 25 percent of the relevant part of the stockpile will be out to the states by the third of May.

In addition, we are sending—in addition to the antivirals, we're sending out gloves and masks and other similar equipment. As of this afternoon, antivirals and assets have already reached New York City, Indiana, Texas, Kansas, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, and of course the District of Columbia. And as I said, more continue to get distributed every day until we're complete with the initial wave of distribution by the third of May.

We are also working with our private sector and critical infrastructure partners to make sure they're doing what they need to do to educate their employees. And they are making sure they're working through their own planning checklists on what to do in this type of a situation.

With respect to the borders, based on the information supplied to us by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the World Health Organization, our position has not changed. Customs and border patrol agents continue to watch for travelers who demonstrate signs of illness to make sure that they are taking appropriate action.* We are also taking similar action at our nation's airports. But as the President noted last night, closing the entire borders would have no benefit at this point because the virus is already present in the United States. The comparison is clear. It's like closing the barn door well after the horse has left.

In addition, the CDC continues to issue community guidance and guidelines for what localities can do, schools, school districts can do as we go through this. If you are a parent and you may believe that at some point your school, the school or schools where your children go may be temporarily closed, be sure you have thought ahead about what you will do with your children and how you make sure that that's appropriately taken care of.

And importantly, if a school is closed, it is not closed so that kids can go out to the mall or go out into the community at large. They're being asked to stay home because the entire purpose is to limit containment and communication within the community. So if a school is closed, the guidance is and the request is to keep your young ones at home.

Washing hands often with soap and water, covering your mouth if you cough or sneeze, staying home if you are sick, and contacting your health care provider or doctor if you have severe flu-like symptoms are all part of the common sense guidance that we are following.

With that, there are several issues or questions that have been raised with respect to travel. So I'm pleased today to be joined by the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, and we'll ask him to come forward. Ray?

Secretary LaHood: Thank you, Secretary. Thank you very much. My message really is that it is safe to fly. There is no reason to cancel flights. We are working with the airline industry to make sure that they have the most up-to-date information fro the CDC so that their crews and their staff will know what procedures and measures are necessary to make sure that if there are any signs or symptoms of flu, that they can also ensure the safety of their employees and the flying public.

Last evening I spent 45 minutes on a telephone conversation with the Transportation Secretary of Mexico [Juan Molinar Horcasitas]. They are not suspending or canceling any flights, and he and I will continue to be in touch with one another on these types of aviation issues.

We are taking our cues from the CDC. We have been at all of the meetings. Our office, our department, has been at all of the meetings that have been coordinated by the CDC and the White House. And we believe that flying is safe, and we will continue to monitor the situation. But really, the CDC is the organization that will give us the guidance as we go forward.

Secretary Napolitano: Then [Deputy] Secretary of State [Jacob Lew].

Deputy Secretary Lew: Thank you, Secretary Napolitano. The Department of State has mobilized all of its resources and expertise to address the challenge. From the immediate onset of the spread of H1N1, we'd organized a task force in our operations center that's twenty four-seven so that all information coming in from around the world could be coordinated. We have just upgraded the task force, upgraded this operation to a task force, which—it was headed by Ambassador Robert G. Loftis, who heads our office of avian and pandemic influenza action.

The task force is in constant—in close contact with all of our embassies around the world, all of our missions. And it's the point of contact for foreign governments as they reach out to us and as we reach out to them to understand what is developing and what forms of assistance are being requesting. And then we in turn are then coordinating with all of the other agencies of the U.S. government and, as the other departments, taking guidance from the CDC for the actions that we ought to be taking.

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*Typo correction, gents to agents.

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