I don’t disagree with the Seattle Times editorial board on this one, but it’s kind of a “duh-uh” moment:
We have been warned. State and local government, and even businesses, must be ready to respond to a bird-flu pandemic because the federal government says it can’t be relied on to deliver all necessary services in the event of “multiple simultaneous outbreaks.”
“Can’t” be relied on, and won’t provide an effective response, because the Bush administration simply does not believe that little things like public health and emergency management fall into the proper role of the federal government. Good thing then that our local leaders are so far out in front of this life and death issue.
Way back in September, King County Executive Ron Sims was the guest of honor at a fundraiser to benefit Red Cross relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Katrina. But rather than talk about New Orleans, he spent most of his time talking about the county’s own disaster preparation efforts. By far their primary focus? Not earthquakes, not terrorist attacks… but avian flu. It was a sobering talk with zero political upside for a man who was in the midst of what was supposed to be a tough fight for reelection, and I came away wishing every voter had the opportunity to talk with Sims one-on-one.
Well, Lynn Allen of Evergreen Politics has had the opportunity to chat with Sims one-on-one, and last week she posted a very in depth piece on avian flu and King County’s preparation for it, which the county outlines in a 45-page Response Plan that Lynn accurately describes as “an astounding document.”
It includes the purpose of the plan, assumptions about the possible pandemic, the likely phases of a pandemic, the responsibilities of the various state and local agencies, and discussions of how direction will be provided, communications maintained, schools run, people quanantined, and social distancing strategies implemented. (Note that phrase, social distancing. You’ll be hearing a lot about that as we begin to talk more about preparing for living with a flu pandemic.) They talk about many aspects of the public health system and responses and then how the recovery from the pandemic can proceed.
They also have a section on maintenance of essential services, something I’ve personally been very interested in since my assumptions about the availability of services has a lot to do with my personal preparations. Can we count on having water, even intermittently? Electricity? Bus service? I was reassured and incredibly impressed by the obvious thought that has gone into thinking this all through and developing agreement to it.
Of course, critics (and you know who you are) will likely argue that this is all a bunch of fear-mongering grandstanding… that chances are, avian flu will never make the jump to human-to-human transmission, and that this is all a waste of taxpayer money. But if it does make the jump, thousands of people may die in King County alone… and if it doesn’t make the jump, some other pandemic strain eventually will.
For its part, the Times comes off as rather understated about what needs to be done. After noting that the federal government is unwilling and incapable of leading a response, the Times suggests that the feds “at least ought to help pay the bills.”
Washington state has already received its one-time $2 million allotment from the federal government for avian flu preparation… a pittance to protect the American people compared with the $300 million a day we’re spending in Iraq. It’s time we all started demanding that the Bush administration takes the threat of flu pandemic more seriously, and provide the funding necessary for local governments to meet this crisis head on. Your life could depend on it.