Democrats hustled to temper Vice President Joe Biden's comments today that he would advise his family to avoid flying or being in confined spaces because of concerns about swine flu, a comment that drew criticism from the travel industry.
At a news conference Wednesday evening, President Obama said Americans who may be sick should avoid airplanes and "any system of public transportation where you're confined," but the vice president today took it one step further.
"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 in a confined aircraft where one person sneezes, that goes all the way through the aircraft," Biden said on NBC's "Today" show.
"That's me," he said.
"I would not be, at this point, if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway," he said. "From my perspective, this relates to mitigation. If you're out in the middle of the field and someone sneezes, that's one thing. If you're in a closed aircraft, a closed container, a closed car, a closed classroom, that's another thing."
Biden's comments came just hours before the White House announced that a Department of Energy official who had traveled to Mexico City with Secretary Energy Chu exhibited flu-like symptoms upon his return, but tested negative for the swine flu. However, his wife, son and nephew tested positive for the virus, and have now recovered.
The White House shot down concerns that the president or any other immediate members of his staff may be impacted. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the individual did not come within six feet of Obama but was present at a dinner with him and did come into contact with Chu.
Gibbs added that about 10 staffers who were on the Mexico City trip with Obama consulted doctors for flu-like symptoms, but none of them tested positive for the swine flu.
Biden's remarks drew the ire of the travel industry. The U.S. Travel Association immediately released a statement countering Biden's remarks, and advised people to listen to medical experts.
"Americans should heed the advice of medical experts when determining how best to manage health concerns during the ongoing swine flu outbreak. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and countless other experts, swine flu should not discourage people from traveling to or within the United States," Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the association, said in the statement.
"Elected officials must strike a delicate balance of accurately and adequately informing citizens of health concerns without unduly discouraging travel and other important economic activity," he said.
American Airlines issued an even stronger statement.
"To suggest that people not fly at this stage of things is a broad brush stroke bordering on fear-mongering," American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith told The Associated Press. "The facts of the situation, at this stage anyway, certainly don't support that."
When asked by ABC News' Jake Tapper whether the White House had a response to Biden's comments, Gibbs replied: "I think ... what the vice president meant to say was the same thing that again, many members have said in the last few days, that is, if you feel sick, if you are exhibiting flulike symptoms -- coughing, sneezing, runny nose -- that you should take precautions, that you should limit your travel."