WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday the policy of passive surveillance for swine flu at U.S. airports and land ports "makes sense" and sterner steps are not yet necessary.
Napolitano also said the Obama administration wouldn't wait for a World Health Organization declaration of a pandemic to deliver a pandemic-like response.
The secretary, who has taken a lead role in the administration's response to the flu breakout, went on morning news shows to assure the American public that the government was ready and able to respond to any widening health threat.
"We anticipate that there will be confirmed cases in more states as we go through the coming days," she acknowledged on NBC's "Today" show. Noting that the WHO has moved the pandemic alert status to Level 4 of a 6-step process, the secretary also said: "We're prepared as if there were a pandemic. We're not waiting" for a WHO declaration.
Some 50 people have been infected in this country so far, but there have been no reports of deaths, in contrast to neighboring Mexico, where approximately 50 deaths have been reported.
In one interview, Napolitano was asked point-blank if the monitoring that the U.S. is now conducting at entry points in the country is sufficient. "We think that what we're doing now at the land ports and the airports makes sense," she said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Asked if more draconian measures are under consideration, Napolitano said on NBC: "That's something that can be considered, but you have to look at what the costs are. We literally have thousands of trucks and commerce that cross that border ... That would be a very, very heavy cost for what epidemiologists tells us would be marginal" in terms of containing the virus.
Napolitano also was asked if the federal Department of Health and Human Services is sufficiently prepared to respond to the crisis, given that its secretary-designate, Kathleen Sebelius, was still awaiting Senate confirmation and there are several high-level vacancies there.
"Yes, absolutely," she said. "And we had a homeland security council meeting last night with many departments of the federal government. ... So there's a very broad, multi-agency federal response going on."
Napolitano also said that federal efforts to get antivirus medications to the states "is under way and is working."