Administration declares 'emergency'
By MIKE ALLEN & CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN
In an unusual Sunday briefing at the White House, administration officials said a “public health emergency” is being declared in the United States in order to mobilize maximum resources to combat fears of a global swine-flu pandemic.
The term "sounds more severe than it really is," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who called the measure "standard operating procedure," adding, “I wish we could call it a declaration of emergency preparedness.” The same measures, she said, were taken for the inauguration and in cases of flood and hurricane.
Acting CDC Director Richard Besser said that health officials have reported 20 U.S. cases across five states – California, Kansas, New York, Ohio, and Texas – and expect the numbers to rise as doctors perform more tests to detect the illness, and warned that "more severe" cases are likely to surface here.
While the disease, which appears to have originated in Mexico, has killed more than 80 there and infected over 1,300, there have been no fatal American infections so far.
The government said it will release 25 percent of its stockpiles of the flu-fighting drugs Tamiflu and Relenza. Texas governor Rick Perry had previously requested 37,430 doses of Tamiflu be sent to his state from the Strategic National Stockpile.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed any suggestion that administration's response would be hampered by the lack of confirmed appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services, the last Cabinet post to receive a secretary, or the yet to be filled post of surgeon general.
Gesturing to Napolitano, Brennan, and acting CDC Director Richard Besser, he said “There is a team in place, the team is standing behind me.”
Gibbs said "the president's health was never in any danger," when asked about reports that Obama's host on a museum tour in Mexico City died the next day, and had flu-like symptoms. The flu has a 24-48 hour incubation period, he said and Obama left Mexico nine days ago and has not shown symptoms of the flu nor has he been seen by a doctor or received preventative treatment.
Asked if the president’s decision to golf Sunday at Andrews Air Force Base was part of a White House strategy to reassure people, Gibbs chuckled and replied: “I'm not sure I'd draw a DIRECT conclusion.”
John Brennan, White House homeland-security adviser, said there is “no evidence whatsoever” of bioterrorism.
Napalitano said briefings will continue daily for awhile. The CDC is to brief reporters by teleconference at 3 p.m. ET.
“We’re preparing in an environment where we really don’t know," she said, "ultimately what the size or seriousness of this outbreak is going to be.”