Report: Pandemic flu would cripple city services

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As much as 40 percent of the city workforce would be out of commission for as long as four months if Minneapolis was struck by a pandemic flu outbreak. That’s the conclusion of a Health Department memo circulated Monday at the City Council’s Health, Energy and Environment Committee meeting.

The issue, according to health commissioner Gretchen Musicant, is “continuity of service” in the wake of a massive public health emergency. “There’s not enough people to maintain current service levels,” she said.

Musicant said she has been meeting with the city’s union representatives about the issue and plans to meet with other “priority departments,” such as police, fire, and solid waste. An Incident Command Planning Team will begin working on strategies at the end of June, she added. The team will participate in a “tabletop exercise” to test the city’s readiness by the end of the December, after which it will submit a formal plan.

Federal officials have been warning of a major pandemic flu outbreak for several months in the wake of the Avian Flu virus that has swept across parts of Asia and Europe. The city is in the earliest stages of preparedness.

“How worried should we be?” asked Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2).

“We don’t know for sure what will happen, but there have been pandemic flus every 20-40 years,” said Musicant. “It’s not something the human race has never faced before.”

She added that city residents could have less than six months to prepare for a major flu outbreak, since it will take public health officials that long to develop a vaccine once they know “what the organism looks like.”

Meanwhile, the city has hired a coordinator to train community teams to spread information about how to best prepare for the potential virus and officials have posted information on the “Health Department Web site”:http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/emergency/flu-home.asp. “What we have to offer is a process, not a recommendation,” Musicant said.

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