Washington in for H1N1 Health Crisis

Tuesday federal and local officials warned, in Washington employers should prepare for a possible health crisis in coming months from an H1N1 pandemic.

In this area, health officials said, reported cases of the virus, also known as swine flu, have remained relatively low, in contrast to such places as Memphis and Austin, where overwhelmed hospitals have been forced to set up tents in parking lots to handle the heavy patient caseload. Still, officials from the federal Department of Health and Human Services as well as the District, Maryland and Virginia warned employers to plan for a disaster with large numbers of their workers out sick and a possible disruption in their operation.

Despite losing revenue and in some cases having cut their workforces during the recession, officials said, employers probably should expect additional strain from spending more on fax machines, printers and high-speed Internet connections so that staff can work from home, and from shifting more duties to employees who are well.

"Your planning assumption should be based on a worse-case scenario and what that means to your business. Frame your universe on who it is you can't do without and how you will function with two-thirds of [the staff] out," Dr. Pierre Vigilance, director of the District's Department of Health, told about 200 employers and business people at a conference sponsored by the Greater Washington Board of Trade, The Washington Post reports.

it was also reported, Swine flu cases at Washington University have been steadily increasing in recent weeks, but the number of cases at the University is still much lower than at most other higher education institutions.

New cases continue to be reported around the country as the disease spreads and fall season settles in.

A vaccine is expected to be ready for distribution sometime in October, but school officials emphasize that students can take precautions in the meantime to avoid infection. The University has formed a taskforce to monitor the campus situation and stay up to date with information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Student Life reports.

In the meantime, several hundred health-care workers, civil libertarians and members of anti-vaccine groups on Tuesday railed against a mandate that medical professionals get seasonal and swine-flu vaccines.

Nurses and other health-care workers said they shouldn't be forced to get a vaccine that they don't believe has been tested appropriately as a condition of keeping their jobs.

"There's no proof this vaccine will protect us from swine flu or protect us from spreading it to others," said Sue Field of Poughkeepsie, a registered nurse who works in a hospital maternity ward and a primary organizer of the rally, USA Today reports.

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