For all I know, by the time you read this, Chicago may have its first case of the swine flu.
We’ve all heard the horror stories about the strain that is spreading through Mexico (but which President Barack Obama appears not to have contracted when he was in Mexico City last week), and which officials now fear will work its way through the United States.
CONSIDERING HOW MUCH of a transportation hub Chicago is because of O’Hare International Airport, I’m surprised that some international visitor didn’t manage to leave the Second City a souvenir, of sorts, during their brief stopover.
That’s really all it takes for this thing to be triggered.
I’m surprised to learn that Ohio and Kansas managed to beat Illinois to having confirmed cases of the virus within their boundaries.
According to White House doctors, President Obama appears not to have contracted the swine flu during his recent visit to Mexico City. Photograph provided by White House.
Not that I view this as some sort of bizarre competition. But as of Sunday night, the Illinois Department of Public Health was unaware of any instances of the virus occurring here.
BUT THE CHICAGO Health Department is taking what I consider to be a much more realistic approach to the issue. They’re accepting it as fact that the virus will break out here, probably in the city proper – if not one of the hundreds of suburban towns that surround us.
“There’s no reason to think that we won’t eventually see it in the state of Illinois and city of Chicago,” health Commissioner Terry Mason told reporter-types.
Thus far, there have been 20 reported incidents of the virus spread over five states. Many appear to be people who have traveled in recent weeks, such as the New York high school students who took what should have been a life-long memory trip to Cancùn.
It will be memorable, but not for the reasons they intended.
NOW I DON’T mean to downplay the seriousness of the virus, which has already killed some 86 people in Mexico and has left about 1,400 ill during the past few weeks. If quick actions are not taken, it can inflict serious harm on a person – as well as spread so quickly from person to person.
But part of the reason I’m not panicking is that I have enough faith in our public health systems to cut this potential problem off before it gets too far out of control. In part, that faith is because I choose not to live my life isolated in a cave somewhere, which is what it would take for someone to avoid all the potentially bad things that can happen in life.
And I also have enough sense to realize that Mexico doesn’t have some special claim to this virus. For those people who envision closing the border crossings along the Rio Bravo del Norte/Rio Grande in the name of keeping the U.S. free of a virus, it ain’t gonna happen.
Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano said as much on Sunday, although people entering the U.S. from Mexico are going to have to submit to a few questions about their health before being allowed to cross the border.
FOR ONE THING, in today’s world of international travel, it is the airports that are the true entry points. And there could very well be people going from Mexico to somewhere else (and maybe another place as well) before entering Chicago or the United States.
Officials note that the quarantine facility at O’Hare International is now up and running in case anyone needs to be detained for a time. Homeland Security officials also said airport officials will be watching all people passing through, which is a good thing.
Focusing too much attention on Mexico when it comes to this particular viral outbreak is a mistake. This is a disease that doesn’t particularly care about ethnicity. It will take out anyone it can.
So the nativists who are going to start clamoring for stringent restrictions on travel to and from the land south of the Rio Bravo del Norte are guilty of nothing more than trying to use a potential health risk to stir up fear that backs up their own nitwit thoughts.
SO HOW GOOD are the chances that people in Chicago will someday be wearing those white masks that we’ve all been seeing residents of Mexico City wearing?
It could happen, although that would be the worst-case scenario.
I’d hate to see Chicago have to become as stringent as the Mexican capital, where officials have gone so far as to shut down most public facilities in an attempt to reduce public interactions that could spread the virus further.
EDITOR’S NOTES: Chicago officials are preparing for when (not if) the swine flu (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-ap-il-swineflu-illinois,0,3135647.story) finds its way to our city. Even the Chicago Public Schools are pitching in with the effort of trying (http://www.wrex.com/Global/story.asp?S=10252391) to find potential viral outbreaks before they occur.
Here’s hoping Chicago does not come to resemble the Federal District of Mexico when it comes (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103509097) to daily life in the wake of the swine flu virus.