As of this week, swine flu is a national emergency, a move by President Obama that’s more of a formality than anything else, despite the dire-sounding name.
Officially, the declaration gives Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelious the ability to bypass certain federal restrictions, particularly regarding the establishment of off-hospital treatment centers like at schools and tents more than 300 yards away from the hospital building.
Swine flu is a nasty bug that will knock you out for a couple of weeks and certainly it’s no fun to have, but does it really deserve to be a “national emergency,” on the same caliber as natural disasters on the level of Hurricane Katrina?
Let’s look at the facts: Swine Flu is indeed easier to catch than the regular flu, at least for demographics that aren’t usually susceptible to the seasonal flu. Our own campus now has more than 140 suspected cases.
But even according to the World Health Organization, which originally declared H1N1 a pandemic, the disease is only moderate, meaning most people recover just fine and most hospitals are equipped to handle the amount of patients they get.
The scariest thing about H1N1 is the speed at which it spreads, and even that is not necessarily “national emergency” caliber—similar diseases like the Norovivus spread just as quickly, and that hasn’t been made a national emergency.
The point is this: While the powers granted to Sebelius are probably helpful, there are other ways to grant her those powers that don’t cause national panic. Whether the intent was to avoid administrative red tape or warn people of the dangers of the flu, the result will inevitably be panic. The word emergency carries certain connotations with it, and people will pick up on that.
It’s a bad bug, to be sure, and everyone should amp up their basic hygiene to avoid getting sick, but the H1N1 virus is not a national emergency, and labeling it as such causes people to panic unnecessarily. We’ve all got enough to worry about as it is.