With all of the news media coverage about Swine Flu, here is my own take on how the conversation is likely to have gone between principal cabinet members and the President this week...
President: "Good morning, everyone. CDC, thanks for your update on the Swine Flu situation. Like all Americans, I'm concerned. While I don't want to contribute to a growing panic, it's our responsibility to prepare. I'd like to get your thoughts and recommendations for the way ahead."
National Security Advisor: "Mr. President, it appears the Swine Flu virus is spreading across international borders rapidly. With limited travel restrictions in place, we can expect an exponential rise in cases around the world--more illnesses and more deaths. Many more."
Council of Economic Advisors: "Imposing any travel restrictions at this point would render any chances of an economic recovery slim at best. Restricting travel is synonymous with restricting commerce. Without free commerce, our current recession will surely slide into a depression."
Treasury Secretary: "It would be devastating."
Commerce Secretary: "Until we have further resolution on the threat we're facing from Swine Flu, I don't believe I can overstate the risk of overreacting here...."
The President: "None of us want to overreact, and we won't. The decisions need to be well thought-out. The risk of under-reacting may be just as great, so we have to strike the right balance in our response."
Acting HHS Secretary: "Developing an immunization for Swine Flu will take time. We've reached out to the current producers of vaccine and they have already begun researching and testing vaccines to determine which will be effective. Ultimately, vaccine production is accomplished by injecting flu virus into eggs. That takes time. I might add, vaccine is also expensive. So, priority of vaccine will go to first responders and hospital workers and then to high risk populations. In the meantime, we are releasing stockpiles of Tamiflu to hospitals where clusters of Swine Flu have popped up to help mitigate the effects and hopefully help slow the spread of the virus."
White House Chief of Staff: "We are developing an interagency task force to deal with a potential pandemic, Mr. President. We'll meet every day and update you as required."
Secretary of Homeland Security: "Our goal is to keep our hand on the pulse of the country as we progress through this emergency. We have the means to do that in our operations center on Nebraska Avenue."
National Security Advisor: "Internationally, we'll do that through CDC and here in the SITROOM. Continuity of operations plans are being implemented."
The President: (Nodding) "We'll, frankly, I'm worried. All of us are susceptible to this virus. As you know, I shook hands with a gentleman in Mexico who died of the disease the next day. If you look at this objectively, we really haven't progressed much further than when the world faced a similar situation during the flu pandemic of 1918. We still grow vaccine in eggs, for God's sake! The most effective means to address an epidemic or pandemic is by isolating the virus. Closing schools. Closing convention halls and cancelling public events. Restricting travel. Eventually, we'll have to implement those measures. It won't be business as usual. But right now, I don't want to start a panic."
(Pausing, looking around the table)
"For all of us here on these 18 acres, we're human too. It's apparent that this will get worse before it gets better. We're going to be faced with some pretty dire reports in the weeks ahead and we'll have to react to them, so taking passive measures alone won't be sufficient. We need to dust off and update our contingency plans. As a federal government, we need to be in constant contact with our state and local counterparts as we deal with this emergency. A government needs people to operate effectively, so take care of yourselves and your families. Take care of one another. If you're sick, seek help. I need you."