WASHINGTON—Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Monday examined the preparations being taken by Connecticut’s public and private institutions for a resurgence of the H1N1 influenza virus.
At a field hearing in Hartford titled “H1N1 Flu: Protecting Our Community,” Lieberman urged collaboration and communication among federal, state and local government agencies, educational institutions, the healthcare community, businesses, and the public.
“At this point, the state appears to be on track to stay out in front of a broad H1N1 outbreak,” Lieberman said. “We are fortunate that, so far, new cases of the virus have continued to show the same mild to moderate symptoms as we observed last spring, but outbreaks of infectious diseases are hard to predict, so circumstances could still change dramatically over the coming weeks and months.
“Therefore, we must remain on heightened alert, continue to take preventative action, work together and hone communications with the public, and – while hoping for the best – we must prepare for the worst.”
Across the United States, well over one million people have become ill with the H1N1 virus, with about 2,000 confirmed cases and nine deaths in Connecticut last spring. The Health and Human Services Department has announced a vaccine will become available for high-risk groups in early October. Connecticut is expected to receive an initial shipment of about 500,000 doses of the vaccine by the middle of next month for those high-risk groups, which include pregnant women, health care workers, people with conditions such as asthma or diabetes, and youth up to age 24.
“We are holding this hearing now because it is the beginning of the flu season,” Lieberman said. “But September is also National Preparedness Month, and therefore a good time to remind people that they contribute to the well-being of their own communities when they take time to inform themselves about existing threats. Preventing the spread of the flu is something that every single person can and must help with, and I hope that this hearing further inspires people from all walks to life to do their part.”
Witnesses, including Vernon parent Julie Polansky, testified about how their communities dealt with the spring H1N1 outbreak and are preparing for a resurgence of the H1N1 virus. Polansky has two young children in public schools and told Lieberman how families were impacted when schools closed for two days in the spring. She also discussed steps Vernon has taken to prepare students and parents for another outbreak.
“My hope for the current school year is clear communication and careful preparation,” Polansky said. “I am happy to report that the Vernon Public School Nurses have distributed a flyer outlining recommendations on how to stop the spread of flu. Nurses are also working closely with a local physician and the Department of Public Health to monitor the flu and make decisions about the best steps to take concerning schools.”
In addition to Polansky, witnesses were: RoseAnn Right, a registered nurse and Director of the City of Waterbury Department of Public Health; Daniel Aloi, Manager of the Business Continuity Services at Aetna, Inc.; Michael Kurland, Director of Student Health Services for the University of Connecticut; Rear Admiral Michael Milner, Regional Health Administrator for Northeast states, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; The Honorable Peter Boynton, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security; Dr. Matthew Cartter, the Connecticut State Epidemiologist; and Dr. Stephen Jones, Director of the Outpatient Center and Center for Health Aging and Chief Patient Safety Officer at the Yale-New Haven Health System.