July 9, 2009

            Governor M. Jodi Rell today joined the Governors of Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Vermont and Wisconsin and members of the Obama Administration for a teleconference to discuss the novel H1N1 influenza outbreak and planning for the fall “flu season.”


            The video conference – which Governor Rell joined from the state’s Emergency Operations Center at the William A. O’Neill Armory in Hartford – was part of a daylong meeting held by the National Institutes of Health to review lessons learned from the initial outbreak of the disease and prepare for the coming months, when the spread of the flu is typically greatest.


            Connecticut’s emphasis is on coordination, collaboration and cooperation,” Governor Rell said. “We have long had a plan in place for pandemic illness – a plan we have updated regularly and will again be updating this year. We are treating the H1N1 virus with all of the care and attention we would give any strain of the flu. It is a serious illness, but it has thankfully proven to be a relatively mild illness so far.”


            Governor Rell announced today that the state Department of Public Health and Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security will be holding a meeting July 22 for all school superintendents in the state to discuss how to handle potential outbreaks of H1N1 and other illnesses this fall. The meeting will be held at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.


            During today’s meeting, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the Obama Administration would be announcing on Friday the details of a plan to make $350 million available to the states for assistance in preparing for the fall flu season, including a nationwide vaccination program.


            Connecticut has already recorded hundreds of confirmed cases of H1N1 and almost certainly has had hundreds more that were too mild to require a doctor’s attention,” Governor Rell said. “And sadly we have seen six deaths, all of them in people who had serious underlying medical conditions.


            “Any strain of the flu can cause major illness – the ‘regular’ flu claims thousands of lives every year, mostly among the elderly, the very young and people with compromised immune systems,” the Governor said. “We do not yet know whether the H1N1 virus will come back in the fall in any more dangerous form – so we are taking matters very seriously right now. It is far easier to roll back our response than to find ourselves scrambling to do the job right at the last minute.


            “Vaccinations will likely be targeted first at school-age children, ‘first responders’ such as police officers and firefighters, women who are pregnant and people with chronic illness,” Governor Rell said. “We also have anti-viral medications that help to ease symptoms of the disease. The most important thing, however, is for people to take the ordinary precautions they would take for any strain of the flu that is ‘going around’ – cover coughs and sneezes, wash your hands often, avoid contact with sick people and stay home from work or school if you are not feeling well.”


            During the teleconference, the Governor received assurances from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that federal officials would work cooperatively with states to ensure guidelines such as the No Child Left Behind Act and funding regulations would not be allowed to conflict with actions taken to safeguard public health such as decisions to temporarily close schools in the event of a flu outbreak.