Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Flu and Federal Incoherence

Vice President Biden advises his family to stay off planes and subways due to the swine flu threat, as The Daily Voice reports:
Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday that he would advise his own family not to travel on planes or subways during the current swine flu outbreak.

Speaking on NBC's Today Show, Biden said "I would tell members of my family, and I have, I wouldn't go anywhere in confined spaces places now." The vice president specifically mentioned airplanes and subways. if one person sneezes on a confined airplane, "it goes all the way through the aircraft," Biden said.

As for whether he would encourage his family to take public transportation, Biden said "I would not be at this point, if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway." But Biden was quick to limit his remarks to his own family. "That's me," he said.

The White House quickly "clarified" Biden's remarks. For perspective, an American is, so far anyway, hundreds of times more likely to die in an Al Qaeda attack than to die after catching the swine flu in a subway.

Joe Biden is a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Contrast Joe Biden's approach with the Department of Homeland Security which is forbidding its employees from wearing protective masks:

The Department of Homeland Security said Thursday it has not told agents at U.S. airports and border checkpoints that they cannot wear masks to protect from exposure to swine flu.

They do allow for an exception:

"Masks should be used in high-risk situations, such as when an employee comes into contact with a person or traveler who appears to be ill," the official said..

"If an employee at (an airport) or (on the border) comes into contact with someone who appears to be ill, it is strongly recommended and encouraged that both of them put on masks and gloves immediately," the official continued, adding that "the safety of employees is of the utmost importance."

Asked why an agent shouldn't be allowed to wear a mask if it makes him or her more comfortable and doesn't affect performance, the official said only that "science indicates" masks are not needed now.

So, as thousands of travelers walk past them at customs, the agents have to wait until they are in contact with a person "who appears to ill." By that time, of course, it is likely too late in the exposure for a mask to matter.

So Biden advises his family not to take the subway but his government prohibits employees with constant exposure from wearing a mask? And, Democrats want the government to be put in charge of our health care decisions.

UPDATE: The federal confusion continues. On the one hand, the Obama administration denies the policy:
Department of Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith vehemently denied that there is any official restriction on federal employees wearing face masks at points of entry.
On the other hand, the employees working there deny that denial and plead for their own safety:
In a statement issued late this morning, NTEU [National Treasury Employees Union] president Colleen M. Kelley said the [mask] instructions are inadequate and "putting at unnecessary risk the health of these employees, specifically those that are responsible for clearing travelers from Mexico, and those with special conditions such as pregnancy or respiratory ailments."

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