Life in the Time of a Pandemic

In addition to limiting large gatherings, this could also involve isolating people who have been known to have had contact with infected individuals. Telecommuting and distance learning would replace attendance at schools and jobs.

"These measures may also result in the overall ability to sustain society, keeping our economies running and our businesses moving," Gerberding said.

Measures Could Bring Hardships

However, the authors of the guidance acknowledged in the document that the sweeping changes that would take place with the implementation of the measures would be a difficult adjustment for many.

"There would be a large number of people who would not be able to work," Duchin said. "There would be a loss of income for businesses, as well as a loss of personal income."

"Most people are unlikely to have insurance or leave from work that would carry them through 12 weeks without work," he said.

The Department of Labor is currently researching ways to mitigate these effects. But even with assistance from the federal, state and local levels, the impact on individuals -- as well as on the economy as a whole -- would likely be huge.

"When you start closing schools, closing businesses, and closing subways, it brings cities or communities to a standstill," said Dr. John Bartlett, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine at the Seasonal and Pandemic Influenza meeting in Washington.

"Economic, social, and other parts of society, would be completely different," he said. "That's to me one of the issues in this planning that people have not completely grasped... They sort of assume that the rest of life would go on."

Guidelines Not Yet Ready for Implementation

Even now that the CDC has formally presented the guidelines, it is unlikely that the measures provided for in the guidelines could be implemented in time to save lives if a Category 5 pandemic were to begin tomorrow.

"This is not something that we can just pull out of a hat; it is not an off-the-shelf solution," Duchin said. "We're not yet prepared nationally at the local level to carry out these measures."

Some of the measures, however, could be enacted in order to slow down the spread of disease. Duchin said school and office closings and other social distancing measures could go forward.

"Isolation of the sick is ready to go, but the difference in this case would be the scope," he said. "Social distancing can be done pretty quickly without a lot of planning."

Adding to the difficulty of effective implementation is the fact that every virus -- and every pandemic -- presents new and different challenges.

"Through this, the federal government is saying that based on all of the information we have, with no vaccine and not enough retroviral treatment, that this is the best advice we can give you in terms of protection," Duchin said.

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