Anxious California travelers worry over flu outbreak
April 27, 2009
LOS ANGELES ” Travelers bound for Mexico departed with face masks and a growing sense of concern and health officials around California bolstered defenses against a new strain of swine flu that has proved deadly in Mexico and has established a foothold in the United States.
Agents at check-in counters for AeroMexico at Los Angeles International Airport said Sunday that they were given no special instructions regarding the flu outbreak believed to have killed more than 100 people in Mexico, and were going about their usual business.
But it was a different story with edgy passengers heading south of the border. Many had heard news reports saying Mexican soldiers had distributed 6 million masks, church services were canceled and health workers were patrolling subways looking for sick people.
“I’m worried,” said Sergio Ruiz, 42, who checked in for a flight home to Mexico City after a business trip to Los Angeles. The technology manager said his daughter told him by phone that her classes were canceled until at least May 6.
What are his plans when he gets back?
“I want to stay home,” he said. “I’m going to stay there and not do anything.”
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Martin Vertiz, 58, a Mexico City teacher, arrived at the famously congested airport with several dozen students in tow after a two-week exchange program at a Redondo Beach high school.
He’d purchased paper face masks for everyone in the group but hadn’t distributed them yet for fear of alarming the teenagers.
“They are nervous,” he said.
In a statement, Los Angeles airport officials said custodians are sanitizing door knobs, handrails and faucets on a regular basis. In addition, signs with tips on preventing the spread of flu will be posted and airline and security workers will be reminded about ways to avoid getting sick, such as washing hands frequently.
At a news conference, state School Superintendent Jack O’Connell said officials are taking every precaution to ensure that the flu doesn’t spread. He encouraged sick students to stay home.
St. Mel’s Catholic School in Fair Oaks near Sacramento will be closed until at least Thursday while health officials determine if a seventh grader has a flu linked to the outbreak, according to an e-mail sent to parents.
In San Diego, health officials are posting signs at border crossings, airports and other transportation hubs advising people to “cover your cough.” The international relief agency Operation USA announced Sunday it would send biohazard masks, latex gloves and cleaning supplies to San Diego County’s health clinics in case of an outbreak.
The U.S. has declared a public health emergency, providing for easier access to flu tests and medications and increasing surveillance along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Federal health officials said Sunday that 20 swine flu cases have been reported so far in New York, Ohio, Kansas, Texas and California. Patients have ranged in age from 9 to over 50. All have recovered or are recovering.