Friday, May 1, 2009

Biden: Stay Off Subways During Swine Flu Panic

World Health body raises alert to level 5, one notch short of full pandemic


Updated 3:28 PM EDT, Thu, Apr 30, 2009


Vice president Joe Biden said today he would tell his family members not to use subways in the U.S. and implied schools should be shuttered.


Vice president Joe Biden said today he would tell his family members not to use subways in the U.S. and implied schools should be shuttered as the swine flu outbreak spread to 16 states. His remarks quickly caused a stir, drawing a rebuke from New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and later leading the White House to apologize.

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The World Health Organization has raised it's classification of the swine flu outbreak to Phase Five, one step away from a worldwide pandemic.

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Obama comments on flu outbreak and death of texas infant.

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The threat of swine flu is keeping many travelers on edge.

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The year was 1976 - swine flu panic swept through households across the country and ominous public service announcements hit the airways.

The uproar began when Biden appeared on NBC's "Today" show and said he would advise against riding the subway or taking commercial flights and implied schools should be shuttered amid confirmation of the first swine-flu relation death in the U.S.

"I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now," Biden said when Matt Lauer asked whether he would advise family members to use public transportation.

"I would tell members of my family, and I have, I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now. It's not that it's going to Mexico, it's you're in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes it goes all the way through the aircraft. That's me. I would not be, at this point, if they had another way of transportation suggesting they ride the subway. " 

The vice president also implied that schools should be closed as the threat of swine flu increases.

"If you're out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes that's one thing. If you're in a closed aircraft or a closed container or closed car or closed classroom it's a different thing." 

About two hours after the interview, Biden's office issued a statement attempting to clarify the vice president's remarks.

"The advice he is giving family members is the same advice the administration is giving all Americans: That they should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico. If they are sick, they should avoid airplanes and other confined public spaces, such as subways. This is the advice the vice president has given family members who are traveling by commercial airline this week," Biden's spokeswoman, Elizabeth Alexander, said in a statement.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs apologized for Biden's remarks, saying the vice president misspoke.

Earlier, Mayor Bloomberg, who often rides the subway in New York, said riding the mass transit poses no additional risks in the city with the greatest number of confirmed swine flu cases.

"The bottom line is I feel perfectly safe on the subway," the mayor said today.

"I took the subway here. I take the subway every day," Bloomberg said. "I think what's clear is the flu does not seem to be taking over the city so there's no evidence that taking the subway ... would increase dramatically the probability." 

"Today" show co-host Meredith Vieira and NBC's Chuck Todd discussed Biden's statement after he made the remarks, wondering if the vice president really had intended to caution the American public to stay off public transportation and airplanes. They noted his comments seemed to contradict public statements by other high-ranked White House officials.

The White House is concerned the vice president's remarks create a panic that causes people to avoid public transportation, Todd later reported.

American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith didn't comment directly on Biden's interview but told the Associated Press that advising people not to fly is "fear mongering." 

"To suggest that people not fly at this stage of things is a broad brush stroke bordering on fear mongering," Smith said. "The facts of the situation at this stage anyway certainly don't support that."