Swine Flu Outbreak

April 28, 2009 2:04:31 PM PDT
The swine flu outbreak of 2009.

Will we look back on it as a human scourge or as a blip on the news cycle? I certainly have no idea -- although I've got my fingers crossed that it's the latter.

More cases confirmed today -- here in New York and in various other cities around the country.

Are we more aware of the flu than we were a week ago? Of course. Is it like the shark attacks of a few summers ago, when it seemed that the number was way up? Turned out that the media reports were up, but the actual attacks were down.

Reports of possible swine flu cases are pouring in. Our job - our responsibility to you - is to filter fact from conjecture. There was a report last night that a worker with a big accounting firm's Times Square office had come down with swine flu. It was based on an internal memo from Ernst & Young, and we chose not to cover it last night. Our feeling was that an accounting firm might be able to sign off on an annual report, but it simply doesn't have the expertise to determine the exact nature of a worker's illness.

And indeed this morning, the company issued a statement saying that its original statement was wrong. The worker did not in fact have swine flu.

And so it goes - lots of reports coming in from around the country about possible cases of the swine flu. Filtering what's real and not real is our job, and we'll continue to do that tonight.

The hard truth is that the number of cases in New York City has grown - to nearly 4 dozen, but all of them are at one private school in Queens. The cases are considered "mild" - but the school will remain closed all week.

The others are "suspected" cases.

Is it over? Or is this just the beginning of something horrible?

We just don't know.

But we're watching and keeping tabs for you.

And we'll have the latest, tonight at 11.

And for the record, here are the raw numbers as we know them late this afternoon:

  • 69 confirmed cases in the US (45 of those in New York City)
  • 5 patients hospitalized in the US until this afternoon, when they were released.
  • LA County coroner investigating 2 deaths ? may or may not be swine flu-related
  • President Obama asks Congress for $1.5 billion to fight swine flu
  • Cuba suspending flights to Mexico for 48 hours
  • Canada advising against non-essential travel to Mexico
  • Carnival Cruise Lines suspending stops at Mexican ports
  • Also at 11, it seems slightly comical to hear Republicans complain that U.S. Senator Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania has a left-wing voting record. By his own admission, Specter has voted about 10,000 times in his long career - and his voting record is, politically, all over the map.

    Tonight, Specter's career begins anew as a Democrat, after more than four decades as an elected Republican.

    His party switch now gives Democrats a filibuster-proof status in the Senate - although Specter insisted today that he won't be a rubber stamp for his new party.

    Hard to imagine that would be the case.

    And the real reason Specter switched has little to do with ideology and a lot to do with poll numbers. He was simply not faring well against a Republican challenger in the upcoming primary - and his switch reflects how well he's perceived among independent and middle of the road voters in Pennsylvania.

    Specter's own political machinations aside, what a 100th day anniversary present for Pres. Obama. Especially because it comes in the middle of the swine flu outbreak and a rather boneheaded public relations mistake on Monday to take pictures of the plane Mr. Obama uses as Air Force One flying around the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan.

    It costs about $60,000 an hour to fly the military 747 - and the pictures that were being taken are used as a sort of swag for VIPs who fly on Air Force One. In other words, a waste of taxpayer money, especially during a recession.

    We'll have the latest on Specter's switch, and the economy, at 11.

    Speaking of the economy, two recession-related stories for tonight's newscast.

    The first is the growing number of parents who find themselves going to court to get their child-support payments lowered. It's a no-win and heart breaking situation, as Eyewitness News reporter Tim Fleischer shows us in his special report tonight.

    And even the wealthy are hit - as we are seeing this afternoon from the headquarters of The New York Yankees. The team, not doing well on the field or in the stands of its new, $1.5 billion stadium, is radically lowering some of its more expensive season tickets.

    And by radically lowering I mean cutting in half, or close to it. Those season ticket holders who have already bought into the program at the higher prices will be offered extra seats. It's a complicated formula, with dizzying calculations that are too convoluted to simply explain. CLICK HERE to see the team's announcement.

    We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

    BILL RITTER


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