Top Federal and State Health Officials Join Together at New York Pandemic Planning Summit

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Secretary Mike Leavitt
NYS Department of Health
Antonia C. Novello, M.D. M.P.H, Dr.P.H.
Commissioner
Contact: Robert Kenny
518-474-7354, ext. 1
NYS Emergency Management Office
John R. Gibb
Director
Contact: Dennis Michalski
518-292-2310
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

Acknowledging that pandemics happen and require a strong local response, Dr. Dale Morse, Director of the Office of Public Health and Science of the New York Department of Health (DOH), John Gibb, Director of the New York State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) and Dr. John Agwunobi, Assistant Secretary for Health of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today addressed federal and local public health officials, business, education, and community leaders and the public about pandemic flu preparedness.

Dr. Agwunobi is in New York as part of a national tour of states, as the federal government prepares the country for a potential influenza pandemic.

"Pandemics are global in nature but their effects are always local, so I am pleased that Dr. Morse and Director Gibb are taking leadership roles to prepare New York for this threat," Dr. Agwunobi said. "Pandemic planning needs to address how schools, businesses, public agencies, faith-based organizations and others participate in pandemic preparedness. With this meeting, local officials can identify needs specific to New York communities and begin crucial coordination to assure readiness if a pandemic outbreak strikes."

"A key part of New York State's influenza pandemic response plan focuses on ensuring a rapid and coordinated response and the best way to do that is to continue to bring together local health departments, health care facilities, emergency managers, physicians and other health care professionals to prepare for any health emergency," Dr. Morse said. "Every step we take each day as part of our influenza pandemic planning further strengthens and refines our health emergency response capabilities here in New York."

Dr. Morse and Dr. Agwunobi signed a planning resolution during the summit, agreeing to prepare the state for the possibility of a pandemic influenza. In the planning resolution, HHS committed to providing guidance and technical assistance to New York and provided $19,264,222 for planning and exercising of pandemic response plans, including $8,266,197 for New York City.

HHS agreed to review the state's plans for use, storage and distribution of antivirals and notify it of its portion of the federal stockpile of pandemic influenza antiviral drugs. New York agreed to assure that its operational plan for pandemic influenza response is an integral element of the overall state and local emergency response capabilities and to establish a Pandemic Preparedness Coordinating Committee representing all relevant stakeholders. The state will also exercise its preparedness plan within six months of today's summit.


HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt outlined a series of in-state summits to address pandemic preparedness on December 5, 2005. The in-state summits help the public health and emergency response communities in each state inform and involve their political, economic and community leadership in this process. Invited guests include first responders, business leaders, educators, health care providers, faith-based organizations, volunteer agencies, policymakers and others.

HHS has also prepared a series of checklists to aid Americans with pandemic planning, including a state and local checklist, a business checklist, a guide for individuals and families, checklists for medical care providers, a checklist for faith-based organizations, and an education checklist. The checklists were distributed at the summit.

"The State has developed an overall pandemic influenza strategy that extends well beyond the health and medical sectors to include sustaining critical infrastructure, private sector activities, the movement of goods and services, and economic and security considerations," Director Gibb said. "Today's summit is a vital step to enhancing the State's level of preparedness."

New York's pandemic flu response plan revolves around three key requirements: early detection, prevention, and health care delivery.

During the early days of a pandemic, the plan specifies:

  • Increased and active surveillance for ill persons with recent foreign travel. Identification of individuals who have had contact with ill travelers, including possible limits placed on their movement.
  • Triage and isolation of sick people, while ensuring that they get appropriate care.
  • Rapid testing of viral samples at the Department's Wadsworth Laboratory;
  • Emphasis on early recognition of bacterial pneumonia, with aggressive antibiotic treatment.
  • Increase in infection control measures in health care and other settings to minimize disease transmission;

As a pandemic becomes more widespread, New York's plan provides for strong actions meant to slow or stop the progression of the pandemic.

These actions may include "social distancing" measures, such as:

  • Closing schools for a period of time;
  • Closing businesses, or encouraging businesses to have employees work from home;
  • Canceling and prohibiting large public gatherings;
  • In addition, providing an orderly distribution of vaccines and antiviral drugs, when these become available.

In cooperation with SEMO and the Office of Homeland Security (OHS), last year the DOH developed a package of drill and exercise scenarios for use by local health departments, hospitals and emergency managers. In the past year, New York State and local governments have hosted health emergency preparedness drills to help prepare regionally for crisis situations, including a pandemic.

The DOH and SEMO have met with every county health department to discuss the development of their own county-specific pandemic influenza response plans, which will be submitted to the state by August 31, 2006.

More information on pandemic flu readiness is available at www.pandemicflu.gov and www.health.ny.gov.