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Governor Gregoire Signs Agreement to Prepare Washington for Pandemic Flu

For Immediate Release: April 14, 2006

State will work with federal, state and local governments to coordinate preparation and response

TACOMA — Governor Chris Gregoire today signed an agreement with the United States Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate on state and federal efforts to prepare for an outbreak of pandemic flu.

The agreement was signed at the Washington State Summit on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness. In one of the largest summits of its kind in the nation, several hundred from around the state attended to discuss efforts currently underway to prepare our state and to learn how they can help.

State and local public health, emergency management, business and other leaders gathered at the summit for a broad discussion of the progress on pandemic flu preparations and the upcoming challenges.

“Safety and security in Washington is one of my top priorities,” said Governor Gregoire. “Preparing our communities for the possibility of a global flu pandemic is an immense and continuous responsibility and depends on all of us working together.”

The agreement outlines planning within Washington and how it will be coordinated with federal plans. It identifies state and federal responsibilities and calls on the state to conduct drills and exercises to find ways to strengthen and improve response to a public health emergency such as pandemic flu.

“It’s impossible to predict when the next pandemic will occur or how hard it will hit, so it’s wise to prepare for the worst,” said Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. “We must all work together to achieve that goal — communities, businesses, schools, public health, and local, state and federal government.”

Deputy Secretary Alex Azar of Health and Human Services and Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told attendees they are helping to set a precedent. This is the first generation in history to prepare for a pandemic.

“Pandemics are global in nature but their effects are always local, so I am pleased that Governor Gregoire is taking a leadership role to prepare Washington for this threat,” Deputy Secretary Azar said. “Pandemic planning must address how schools, businesses, public agencies, faith-based organizations and others participate in pandemic preparedness. With this meeting, local officials can identify needs specific to Washington communities and begin crucial coordination to assure readiness if a pandemic outbreak strikes.”

A pandemic is an outbreak of a disease in many countries at the same time. A pandemic of influenza — or flu — occurs when a new flu virus rapidly spreads from country to country, around the world. The swift spread of a pandemic flu would occur because people are not immune to the new flu virus and an effective vaccine would take months to develop.

A pandemic could result in overwhelmed hospitals, shortages of antibiotics, school closures and businesses closing their doors due to sick employees.

Governor Gregoire said that it would take a dedicated effort from everyone — individuals and families, public health, businesses, communities and government — to protect the health and safety of relatives, employees and coworkers.

The state Department of Health and the Division of Emergency Management are taking the lead on the work to prepare Washington for a pandemic. Information and resources are available on the Department of Health Pandemic Flu web site (www.doh.wa.gov).


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