News & Election Videos

Napolitano asserts strong federal flu response

Eileen Sullivan

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that that dealing with the swine flu virus will be "a marathon, not a sprint" and individual citizens have a responsibility to help.

Appearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Napolitano, who is the Obama administration's lead official on the federal disaster response, said that in important respects, state and local authorities represent the "first responder" role in the widening health emergency. She said some 40 states, for instance, are involved in close coordination and consultation with the federal establishment.

"There is a lot we don't yet know about this outbreak. But at the same time we have been preparing as if we are facing a true pandemic, even though we don't know the ultimate scope of what will occur," Napolitano said.

She appeared at a Senate hearing at which committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., praised the federal reaction to the health emergency, contrasting it with the plodding response to the Gulf Coast disaster in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Lieberman applauded a "rapid, strong and reassuring" Washington response.

In her testimony, Napolitano repeated the administration's position that "passive surveillance" of U.S. land and sea ports was sufficient for now, saying that closing borders "has not been merited by the facts."

"We're going to be at this thing for a while," she noted.

"We have been leading a true collaborative effort," Napolitano said, noting that virtually every federal agency "has a role to play."

"Our state, local and tribal partners are absolutely indispensable," Napolitano added. "On many questions, they have the lead roles, they are the first responders."

The secretary also said that the public "also has a responsibility to take precautions ... and if you are sick, not to go to work, not to get on a plane or bus."

The first U.S. death was recorded earlier Wednesday, a 23-month-old boy who was recently brought to Texas from Mexico, and authorities say there have been more than five-dozen infections around the country, including more than 40 in New York alone.

The Associated Press