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Brief: Health Officials Plan Ahead in Case of Flu Crisis

Feb. 2, 2007 — Health officials will meet with public and private officials to discuss ways to deal with the possibility of a widespread flu outbreak, following new guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to the Department of Health's (DOH) Division of Public Health Preparedness and Response, Gov. John deJongh Jr. and Lt. Gov. Gregory R. Francis have already been brought up to date on the territory's planning efforts for a flu pandemic. A meeting on the issue next week will include Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, in his capacity as chairperson of the Senate Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee, along with most government department heads.
The CDC's new guidelines include a plan to rate the severity levels of flu outbreaks, similar to ratings given to hurricanes. Since vaccines may not be available immediately, the guidelines address ways to isolate and contain people who might spread the disease with the cooperation of communities, employers, schools and other organizations, health officials say.
According to the guidelines, there must be at least 90,000 deaths for an outbreak to qualify as Category I. At that point, the CDC recommends such non-pharmaceutical measures as "social distancing" — closing schools, encouraging people to stay home and suspending public gatherings.
DOH officials say their greatest challenge will be in planning to implement such measures, because they anticipate great resistance to the dramatic ways in which people's lives will be affected. The meeting next week will address how the V.I. government would continue to provide essential services during a flu pandemic, as well as issues such as quarantine and isolation, burial of the dead, security and safety measures, school closings and employment issues borne out of the need for residents to remain home due to illness and even fear in such a pandemic, according to DOH officials.

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