In the Workplace, Awaiting Guidance on How to Counter Flu

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 3, 2009

As recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prompt more schools to close for extended periods because of the swine flu outbreak, businesses and other organizations are getting a much less clear message from public health officials.

CDC spokesman David Daigle said yesterday that federal guidance for offices and factories is "in the works," but he could not say when it might be ready. "We hope the organizations have pandemic influenza plans," he added.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's vice president for national security and emergency preparedness, Ann M. Beauchesne, said corporate America is "not anywhere near" taking a stance as aggressive as ones taken by schools.

"Kids are little germ factories. It's different in offices with grown-ups," she said yesterday.

As the CDC continued working on its recommendations, President Obama used his weekly radio address to reassure the public that his administration is squarely confronting the outbreak. He underscored that 50 million courses of anti-flu treatment were stockpiled in anticipation of any outbreak -- preparations he credited the Bush administration for helping put in place.

Obama also spoke yesterday with Mexican President Felipe Calderón for about 20 minutes to discuss what each country is doing.

The administration plans to continue its public relations campaign today by sending three senior officials -- Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and acting CDC Director Richard E. Besser -- to all five major Sunday morning talk shows.

Beauchesne said the administration's responsiveness "has been terrific," with 100-person conference calls scheduled twice a week bringing together business representatives, the CDC and the Homeland Security Department.

"Because all the questions are being answered, there is really no anxiety," she said yesterday.

The CDC said Friday that schools "should consider" sending students home if campuses have one or more cases of the new strain of influenza. The shutdown should last "up to 14 days," since children are contagious longer than adults. As of yesterday, at least 430 schools had temporarily closed.

A survey Friday of about 350 companies found that 54 percent have pandemic plans and 38 percent do not. About 18 percent said they are "extremely prepared," 72 percent "somewhat prepared" and 11 percent "not prepared."

About 80 percent of companies have communicated to employees their willingness to act. About 55 percent have restricted nonessential travel. Nine percent were screening employees for illness, and 3 percent were distributing antiviral drugs.

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