Napolitano: Closing border not the answer to fluBy Bridget Johnson Posted: 04/27/09 04:05 PM [ET] Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the government's response at a press conference Monday afternoon as reporters asked her about the risk of asymptomatic swine flu carriers entering the country.
Napolitano said the strategy of identifying and isolating those who seem ill and try to cross into the United States was adequate given the circumstances, as a reporter asked if closure of the border had been considered.
We're already doing passive surveillance at the border," Napolitano said. "You would close the border if you thought you could contain the spread of disease, but the disease already is in a number of states within the United States."
Noting that those infected with swine flu may not show symptoms for a few days, Napolitano said border closure is "a very difficult judgment to make."
Napolitano said Sunday night that there was no "realistic hope of containment" that would motivate a border closure, as was called for Saturday by Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).
Napolitano said at the Monday conference that her department's preparations were as rigorous as if the swine flu was at pandemic status, and included sending doses of anti-viral medication to government employees manning the Mexican border.
"We are simply in preparation mode," Napolitano said. "We do not yet know how widespread this flu will be within the United States."
The DHS secretary spoke with the Mexican ambassador and would be speaking with her Canadian counterpart in what she called a "tri-national approach" at flu containment.
"Mexico's had a much more acute problem to solve," Napolitano said. "...It will help us for our planning if we can see how widespread this really is in Mexico."
Napolitano also said she had reached out to the governors of the states in which cases of swine flu have surfaced, and said these states and the border states would have priority in accessing the Tamiflu stockpile. "Full deployment" of the stockpile, she said, was expected by May 3.
Swine flu warnings had been posted at airport gates and fliers on the disease were being distributed at land ports, she said, and 19 airports have quarantine available that would cover about 85 percent of air travelers. "We haven't needed to activate that," she said.
When pressed about her acknowledgment that asymptomatic flu carriers could enter the country, Napolitano stressed the need for personal responsibility in preventing the spread of the disease.
"If people are sick and if you believe you have the flu ... we're asking people don't go to school, don't go to work, don't go to a place where you can infect other people.
"We believe at this level the appropriate precautions have been taken."