State officials practice for prospect of flu pandemic
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Besides the obvious challenges a massive
outbreak of a new flu strain would put on Florida residents, a
pandemic could cause a major economic disruption in the state, Gov.
Jeb Bush said Monday.
Florida depends on tourists being out and about and visiting places
where there are lots of people like theme parks, Bush said after
state officials held a drill to run through some of the decisions
they'd have to make in a scenario in which a massive flu outbreak
In the drill state officials practiced Monday, a new flu strain was
unleashed by terrorists, but the exercise was intended to help
emergency and government officials get ahead-of-time ideas for what
would be needed if any kind of flu pandemic were to come to the
"If you have a pandemic situation, and it was not isolated, you'd
have a situation of people not traveling," Bush said comparing the
possible economic damage to that experienced in Florida after the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 when the nation's airlines shut
down for a time.
Florida saw tourism drop dramatically after the attacks and the
industry went into a slump. State government had problems too, as
sales tax collections dropped off dramatically, forcing lawmakers to
make budget cuts.
Bush said in general, the state is as prepared as can be for a flu
"We have a very strong public health system that has been well-
resourced over time," Bush said.
A flu pandemic could be devastating - potentially hundreds of
thousands could get sick and many would die, although Bush declined
to say Monday if the state had a worst-case scenario estimate of the
number of deaths that could be caused.
Hospitals and other health care providers could be overwhelmed if
they're not prepared to deal with a surge in patients. And the
ordinary economy grind to a halt if large numbers of people stay
home from work.
The biggest challenge for Florida in dealing with a flu pandemic
would be the same as for the country in general. Drug makers
generally can't get a vaccine ready until an outbreak occurs,
because different strains of flu virus would require different
vaccines. So large amounts of vaccine can't be stockpiled.
"There would be tremendous demands placed on a vaccine that doesn't
exist," Bush said, noting that a flu pandemic is a remote
Florida may be on the leading edge of such an outbreak if one were
to come to this country, Bush said.
"We're more international, we have more commerce, more travel," Bush
State officials annually run mock disaster exercises to go through
all the decisions they'd have to make and how the command structure
and communication process would work in a particular disaster
scenario. In addition to state officials, the exercise included
representatives of the federal Defense Department, the U.S. Homeland
Security department and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The flu exercise comes ahead of a flu summit planned between state
and federal officials later this month in Tallahassee.
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