What to Make of the Swine Flu?
It’s difficult to know how to react to the swine flu news blitz. Cases around the globe are broadly scattered, but not extensive. The death rate in Mexico, while certainly concerning and, moreover, tragic for those who’ve lost loved ones, doesn’t seem all that high. Yet, the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised its warning level to one step below doom, the story’s been on the front page of the Providence Journal for two days in a row (today including a map of the disease’s reach), North Kingstown high school has shut down, and several cases have emerged across New England.
Reasonableness would seem to suggest that people not take more extreme precautions than increased hand-washing and such until those maps begin showing hundreds of cases where there are currently a few, but at that point, it could be too late if we’re looking at a deadly pandemic. (Although, again, the fact that the peak seems to have been reached in Mexico suggests that it’s not a doomsday virus.) We’re certainly fortunate, however, to live in a time during which news can spread more quickly than the disease that is its topic.
Without delving into partisan criticism, I will say that this logic, which the president has echoed, strikes me as odd (from the first link above):
“Closing our nation’s borders is not merited here,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a mid-afternoon briefing, echoing comments she made earlier in the day while being pressed by senators at a hearing.
She said closing borders or U.S. ports would have enormous adverse economic consequences and would have “no impact or very little” to help stop the spread of the virus.
“This virus is already in the United States. Any containment theory … is really moot at this time,” Napolitano said.
That doesn’t really jibe with my notion of containment. Fewer than a hundred people spread across a nation of more than 300 million is substantially less of a threat than travel to a country in which thousands of cases have been confirmed. It’s not as if we’re a single body that has been infected.