Much ado about nothing?

The story on the front page of the San Diego Union-Tribune today said that officials are agreeing that the H1N1 flu that seems to have paralyzed the world with fear is actually far more mild than originally thought. The Children’s Center at SDSU is still closed as a precaution because a higher -than-average number of the kids there reported flu-like symptoms last week. It’s scheduled to reopen on Monday.

For the past two weeks we haven’t been able to go to a news web site, turn on the TV or open the paper without seeing something about swine flu. The County has had daily briefings on the situation in San Diego. Several high schools and elementary schools have closed and now reopened. And at SDSU we have been sending regular updates to the campus community about our situation here. Is it overkill?

SDSU created a web site to address the H1N1 situation on campus

SDSU created a web site to address the H1N1 situation on campus

Yes and no. It’s sort of a chicken and egg situation as I see it. As much as we’d all love for the news cycle to move on to something else, it hasn’t. And I believe our response, and that of the county, other regional schools and agencies, and even the global health community, has been incredibly appropriate and timely, given the uncertainties of the virus and the fear and near panic that it has caused all over the world.

Messages from organizations like ours have been calming, consistent and accurate accounts of what has been going on. They have been a way to squelch rumors and educate people about the reality of the situation. We have worked closely with the county to ensure the information we are providing is consistent with the information they are providing.

Some have asked why is such a big deal being made out of a virus that has taken the lives of a relatively small number of people, compared with the average flu. I’m not a scientist —  although we are having a panel discussion tomorrow that will hopefully answer some of those questions — but the fact of the matter is, people were scared. If we hadn’t taken a very serious approach to this, hadn’t been proactive about informing and educating SDSU’s students, faculty and staff about the situation, people would be asking why we took it so lightly.

In my view, when there is an international crisis – even one that turns out to be not as bad as everyone thought – it is the job of institutions like ours to keep people informed and educated. Some people asked us to stop sending them our updates. But many others thanked us for the regular information. I believe we helped calm fears and became a resource for information about H1N1, and pandemics in general.

I was asked by a reporter the other day if I thought shutting down schools, like our Children’s Center, is an overreaction. I told her I hope when we look back at this in a month or so, we can say yes, it was an overreaction. But in situations like this, I would much rather be acting on the side of caution, and hope it isn’t a full blown crisis, than to be passive and later have to put out a fire with a garden hose.

In the immortal words of King Stahlman (Bailbonds) – “Better to know me and never need me, than to need me and never know me.”

1 Comment

Filed under College Community, New Media, University News

One response to “Much ado about nothing?

  1. Wendy

    In defense of panicking: I’m a parent. My job is to panic. Out of everything I’ve read today, nothing in the media has scared me more than a conversation at Starbucks with Dr. Pozos (who’s been a doctor longer than I’ve been alive.) He said the strain is mutating and the health risks are very, very real. He said report, educate and stay on top of it because we have not seen the end of the swine flu. I’d much rather have an overreactive press, media team, university and government than a complacent or restrained one. I’d much rather my biggest concern be finding alternative childcare than seeing my kid plugged into a machine in a hospital. Keep reacting. I’m a journalist. Panicking is what I do best.

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