Deviating from Official Flu Warnings, VP Biden Suggests Americans Should Avoid All Mass Transit

By Caitlin Taylor

Apr 30, 2009 8:48am

The White House was forced to issue a clarifying statement after Vice President Biden went a little off-message this morning about what he would advise his family in terms of the current flu crisis.

Asked by NBC’s Matt Lauer what he would tell a member of his family who came to him and asked whether he should fly to and from Mexico on a commercial airliner in the next week, the vice president gave an answer that goes much farther than the precautions the president suggested last night, or the travelers’ advisories given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I would tell members of my family, and I have, ‘I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,’" the vice president said. "It’s not that he’s going to Mexico, it’s that you’re in a confined aircraft, and one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft."

"That’s me," the vice president said.

"I would not be — at this point, if they had another way of transportation — suggesting they ride the subway," the vice president said. "So from my perspective what relates to mitigation, 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 class room, it’s a different thing."

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Elizabeth Alexander, the vice president’s spokeswoman, quickly issued a statement saying that “the advice he is giving family members is the same advice the administration is giving to 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. As the president said just last night, every American should take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu:  keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you’re sick; and keep your children home from school if they’re sick.”

That, of course, is not what the vice president said. In fact, he specifically suggested travel to and from Mexico wasn’t the issue — the problem was being in a confined space.

The CDC’s advice is that Americans avoid non-essential travel to Mexico, and that those traveling to affected areas:

  • Avoid contact with ill persons;
  • When you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve (if you do not have a tissue).  Throw used tissues in a trash can;
  • After you cough or sneeze, wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand gel;
  • If you think you are ill with flu, avoid close contact with others as much as possible. Stay at home or in your hotel room.  Seek medical care if you are severely ill (such as having trouble breathing).  There are antiviral medications for prevention and treatment of swine flu that a doctor can prescribe.  Do not go to work, school, or travel while ill.

– jpt

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