WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged parents to prepare for the possibility that their children's schools could be closed temporarily if swine flu cases spread to them.
Speaking at the White House, Obama said he wants Americans to know the government is doing "whatever is necessary" to contain the emerging health threat, which was blamed for a U.S. death for the first time Wednesday.
Obama said his thoughts and prayers were with the family of the 23-month-old child in Texas who became the nation's first reported swine flu death. The president's remarks came at an event welcoming Sen. Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party, and hours before Obama's televised news conference set for Wednesday night.
"This is obviously a serious situation," Obama said, that "we are closely and continuously monitoring." He urged local authorities to be vigilant in reporting any suspected flu cases.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama, who has been receiving swine flu briefings several times a day, was updated late Tuesday night. The president decided he needed to underscore that the situation was growing more serious, leading to his remarks at the Wednesday morning event, Gibbs said.
Emphasizing a recommendation made earlier this week by federal health officials, Obama said authorities at schools with confirmed or suspected cases of swine flu "should strongly consider temporarily closing so that we can be as safe as possible."
He advised parents to be ready for such disruptions.
"If the situation becomes more serious and we have to take more extensive steps, then parents should also think about contingencies if schools in their areas do temporarily shut down, figuring out and planning what their child care situation would be," Obama advised.
Just moving children from schools to day care centers in infected areas "is not a good solution," he said.
Obama said the federal government is "prepared to do whatever is necessary to control the impact of this virus." He noted his request for $1.5 billion in emergency funding to ensure adequate supplies of vaccines.
And he advised individuals to take their own precautions _ washing hands, staying home if they are sick, and keeping sick kids home.
The Centers for Disease Control has recommended that schools strongly consider dismissing students when there is a confirmed or suspected case.
On Tuesday, health officials closed a school in Sacramento, Calif., and a school in New York City.
Said Gibbs, "The test results coming back on the infant are a very, very painful reminder of what we have to do to remain safe."
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