Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

U.S. Governors Told to Get Ready for Bird Flu

WASHINGTON, July 18 (Reuters) - Governors should make sure they have the legal powers they need to impose quarantines, close schools and keep utilities and transport running in case of a bird flu pandemic, according to new primer from the National Governor's Association published on Tuesday. They should also be working now on clear, simple public messages about the risks of bird flu and what preparations are being made as well as stocking up on food and medical supplies, the document advises.

"Governors should consider creating a state legal team to review current laws and regulations and assess how they would be applied during a pandemic," reads the primer, posted on the Internet at "For example, decisions on closure of schools, limits on use or practices on mass transit or public transport systems, restrictions on public gatherings, etc., must be determined by state and local officials and supported by local or state policies and law."

The H5N1 avian influenza virus has not yet caused a human pandemic, but it has killed 132 people out of the 230 infected. It has infected birds in about 50 countries and is spreading faster than any other avian influenza ever has.

Many experts believe it may pose the worst threat of an influenza pandemic in 30 years.

"The effects of pandemic flu will be broad, deep and simultaneous," Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told reporters by telephone from a National Governor's Association meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. "Medical response will be limited, restrained and potentially depleted during a pandemic," said Pawlenty, a Republican. Outbreaks in people or birds may have to be met with "a pretty aggressive form of containment" and public gatherings eliminated.

Flu is highly contagious, but the the 1918 flu pandemic, in which between 40 million and 100 million people died, showed that closing big buildings may help.

"Consequently, public facilities -- schools, government offices, transportation hubs, museums, libraries, and convention centers -- would be the first considered for closing," the primer advises.

"Private facilities -- shopping malls, concert halls, skating rinks, gyms, restaurants, bars, theaters, and grocery stores -- may be closed under general emergency powers or special powers granted during times of public health emergencies."

States would also have responsibility for making sure that utilities keep running when workers stay home either because they are sick, caring for relatives, or simply afraid to come out, the governors said.

"What about the guys that go out and repair power lines? You have to think that you are going to have 40 percent absenteeism for a year or more," said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, incoming chair of the Association and a Democrat.

Governors should be identifying key personnel and making sure each of them has a trained backup in case they cannot come to work, she said.

Telecommunications should be checked now, the document advises. "Many states or state agencies may find, for example, that they do not have sufficient bandwidth or server capacity to allow large-scale telecommuting of its workforce."

States should "encourage and invest in increased food storage in pantries in government facilities such as schools, prisons, cafeterias, group homes, and state institutions," the primer says. Businesses and individuals should do the same.

AlertNet news is provided by Reuters