"Gaffes" and "Overreaction"

Joe Biden and Eric Massa now have at least one thing in common: both are being accused in some quarters of over-reacting to the swine flu pandemic. This morning, Biden said that he'd tell his family to stay off of airplanes, subway cars and other confined places. Massa's call to close the Mexican border has not been taken up by many, and President Obama didn't pick up on it when asked about it directly during last night's press conference.

While there are great logistical and financial issues with both Massa's and Biden's suggestions, I don't see why everyone's afraid of a "panic" over the flu. Yesterday, the WHO raised the pandemic alert level to phase 5, one below the full-blown phase 6. Here's what that means:

A Phase 5 alert is a “strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.”

Is there any way to read that and not think that serious, immediate measures are no over-reaction? I'm afraid both Biden and Massa are right. If we act now to slow down cross-border travel and gatherings of large groups, we'll be less likely to have a pandemic.

If you're interested in reading more, Ezra Klein looks at a study which shows that small marginal changes in behavior can make a big difference in pandemic spread.


It is also important to note that other Spanish-speaking countries are taking a more careful approach. Cuba and Argentina are both restricting flights from Mexico.

The logistics of closing the Mexican border are staggeringly complex, but I don't see why we can't tighten it down quite a bit, which is all that we might need.

Also, since it is the beginning of flu season in Argentina, not the end, they have a special interest in keeping the virus out of their country. If we can snuff this occurrence out now, we'll have a few months to create a vaccine.