Swine Flu: Panic But Remain Calm?

President Obama this week declared H1N1 a national emergency. This -- combined with the fact that vaccines for the flu are in short supply -- has caused another round of panic.

The declaration states:

[The president does] hereby find and proclaim that, given the rapid increase in illness across the Nation may overburden health care resources and that the temporary waiver of certain standard Federal requirements may be warranted in order to enable U.S. health care facilities to implement emergency operations plans, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic in the United States constitutes a national emergency.

The real reason for the national emergency is simple. It removes certain legal barriers that would normally stand in the way of local governments being able to take quick action in the event of an outbreak; it’s much like declaring a federal emergency in the wake of a major hurricane -- a preventive measure. However, we all know that the words “national emergency” will strike fear in the hearts of people who are prone to panic.

When H1N1 first made its presence known, the media was nothing short of alarmist in presenting the story. Their panicky headlines led the public to start wearing medical masks, keeping their kids home from school, and preparing for the worst. The headlines and network news stories were so over-the-top in their presentation that eventually the ridicule of swine flu became more persistent than the fear of it.

The mania died down, and the people of the world went about the business of catching colds and flus without going into panic mode. It seemed for a while that H1N1 had its fifteen minutes of fame; the media moved on to bigger and more alarming stories. We didn’t exactly forget about the swine flu, but it wasn’t a 24/7 news story anymore and our coughs and colds came and went.