por Lynn Shapiro
, Writer | September 02, 2009
You don't often hear the President of the United States tell you to sneeze in your sleeve, but he did just that this week in alerting the public to basic precautions to stem the spread of the H1N1 virus or swine flu.
With flu season approaching, President Obama said the Federal government was swiftly preparing for the pandemic and that individuals must also take common sense measures to protect themselves against infection.
Obama spoke at a press conference Tuesday in the Rose Garden after being briefed by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on the Federal government's preparations for a pandemic.
The President has asked officials to "spare no effort in addressing this national security challenge," according to the White House.
In the worst case scenario the government is considering, the health care system would be overwhelmed by the pandemic, which could cause as many as 1.8 million patients in the U.S. to be hospitalized. To avert this potential disaster, the President said progress is being made in developing a swine flu vaccine and that a vaccine program "will begin soon."
Aware that some health care officials say they will refuse to take the vaccine, the President said that people would of course make their own decision as to whether to be vaccinated, but that he "strongly recommended" that they take the shot.
Every American Has a Role
The President said that in addition to government efforts, "every American has a role to play in responding to this virus. We need state and local governments on the front lines to make antiviral medications and vaccines available, and be ready to take whatever steps are necessary to support the health care system.
"We need families and businesses to ensure that they have plans in place if a family member, a child, or a co-worker contracts the flu and needs to stay home. We need everyone to take the common-sense steps that we know can make a difference," he said. "Stay home if you're sick. Wash your hands frequently. Cover your sneezes with your sleeve, not your hands. And take all the necessary precautions to stay healthy."
"I know it sounds simple," he said, "but it's important and it works."
Obama concluded, "I think we've done an extraordinary job in preparing for this flu outbreak. "The way it's moving is still somewhat unpredictable, but what I'm absolutely confident about is that our team that's assembled here has done an extraordinary job in preparing for whatever may happen."