Pitkin County braces for swine flu | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County braces for swine flu

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” While health and school officials in Aspen and Pitkin County are bracing for a local outbreak of the swine flu, area residents are weighing the risk of traveling to Mexico ” a popular offseason destination where the virus was suspected of killing 159 people and sickening nearly 2,500 as of midday Wednesday.

U.S. health officials had confirmed 91 cases in 10 states, including the first swine flu fatality ” a Mexico City toddler who traveled to Texas with family to visit relatives died Monday night in Houston ” but no confirmed cases had yet been reported in Colorado, local officials noted during a televised press conference Wednesday in the Pitkin County Courthouse Annex.

At the county level, an incident management team has been meeting for three years to plan for the possibility of a flu epidemic or pandemic. Of late, the team has been meeting daily, said Liz Stark, director of Community Health Services, with which the county contracts to provide public health services.

Stark said she also participates daily in a conference call with state health officials and representatives of most counties in Colorado.

At present, local agencies are disseminating information and making sure they have sufficient supplies on hand to deal with a flu epidemic, public bus drivers have been supplied with masks they can give coughing passengers, and the school district is pulling sick kids out of class quickly. The district has also sent swine flu information to parents.

“The most important message … if you’re sick, stay home,” Stark advised.

Anyone who thinks they might have the flu and needs medical treatment should call their doctor or the hospital before coming in, advised Ginny Dyche, Aspen Valley Hospital spokeswoman. That way, she said, protection for health workers and other patients can be arranged.

“It’s different from what we typically tell people. Usually, we say, if you’re sick, go to the doctor,” Dyche said.

At the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, the protocols for dealing with travelers has not changed, said David Ulane, assistant airport director. There are no direct flights between Aspen and Mexico, but airport officials are monitoring the situation, he said.

There are yet no restrictions on travel to Mexico, but U.S. officials are advising against it. Even so, some local residents aren’t canceling their vacation plans south of the border.

“I was advised a whole group of locals went to Mexico yesterday,” Ulane said, “so it’s business as usual at the airport.”

Aspen residents Alexandre and Emily Harvier, however, were supposed to leave for Mexico on Tuesday for a 10-day beach vacation. Alexandre is the manager/sommelier at Cache Cache, and the Aspen restaurant’s spring offseason closure is typically a time to get away.

Emily, however, is six months pregnant, and they have a 1-year-old son. The family canceled its plans and will vacation within the United States instead, Alexandre said.

“There’s no need to risk something,” he reasoned.

Mike Chavez, chef at Su Casa in Aspen and an employee at Dos Gringos Burritos in Carbondale, had a ticket to fly home to the Yucatan next week. He’s rethinking the trip, which would require him to fly into Mexico City, a hotbed of the flu outbreak that the World Health Organization said Wednesday was nearing pandemic levels.

“I want to see my family, but I think I will cancel my flight. I’m going to wait,” he said.

Basalt resident Jacque Whitsitt said the swine flu outbreak gave her “about a half a moment” of hesitation about her plans to visit Baja next month. She intends to go.

“I’ll wear a mask the whole time if I have to,” she said.

For Mark Thorpe of Snowmass, who returned from Mexico on Sunday with his wife and 8-year-old son, there is little to do but wait. The incubation period for the virus is seven days, said Dr. Morris Cohen, the county’s public health officer.

“I’m not worried. I guess I’ll be holding my breath for a couple of days,” Thorpe said.

Thorpe said he was concerned about sending his son back into the Aspen public schools, but the district said the youngster could return to class if he wasn’t ill.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has issued a disaster declaration, and schools have closed across the state out of fear of the virus, but the Aspen district has no reason to shut down so far, said Superintendent Diana Sirko.

“That could change on a day-to-day basis,” she added.

Cohen urged residents to protect themselves and their children from the virus, which is a new strain of swine flu.

“You need to be prepared. The responsibility is to protect ourselves, our families and everybody else,” he said.


For more from the Colorado Department of Healty and Environment, go to http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/epr/H1N1.html.

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