Thursday, April 30, 2009

No Panic in Rogers Park, Just Stupidity

Is there panic in Rogers Park, Chicago? That's where the first known case of the virus in Illinois caused Kilmer Elementary to be closed yesterday morning (April 29). The short answer: Not really. The longer answer: Yes, but only among a handful of people, and their panic is being fueled by sensationalizing blog posts and small cadre of serial blog commenters. I've been holding back on any real commentary about the "swine flu" in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago until all of the facts have been settled. As of 5:00 p.m. today (April 30), there are just over 40 "probable" cases of swine flu in Illinois. A total of eight Chicago-area schools are now closed in response to known or suspected swine flu cases (source: ABC7 Chicago). There is still only one known case in Rogers Park as far as I can tell from scanning news reports. One single case. Let me correct that. A single known case of one of many strains of influenza. 36,000 Americans die every year of various strains of influenza. Even as the sick Kilmer student was hospitalized yesterday (and we wish her well), there is an unknown number of people in Rogers Park who have some strain of flu or, for that matter, another communicable disease. HIV, for example, or tuberculosis. Of the 60,000 people who are tightly packed into that 2-square mile neighborhood, a single case of influenza should be no cause for panic. I visited Rogers Park on the evening of April 29, the day Kilmer was closed. I walked around and spoke with people at random on the streets. The foot traffic seemed to be normal, with plenty of people walking around. I lived a block and a half north of Kilmer Elementary for 10 years, until last October. I know the neighborhood and its traffic patterns, its feel and its general attitude. By 6:00 p.m., everyone in the neighborhood was aware of the Kilmer flu case. Nobody, not a single person that I spoke with, could be described as being in a state of panic. I saw one girl, perhaps 14 years old, walking with two friends about two blocks from Kilmer, at Pratt and Glenwood. She wore a green surgical mask. Her friends did not, and I saw nobody else wearing a mask or, for that matter, gloves. As I walked around Kilmer Elementary just past 6:00 p.m., a lonley Channel 7 news crew was packing up their gear. The big press conference was that morning at 7:00, when media and media whores gathered to sensationalize and capitalize on the solitary flu case. The crew that I saw had returned to to a live standup report outside of the school. Fear and sensationalism gets viewers, and Channel 7 is in the business of getting viewers. Lake Shore Schools (preschool and grade school) sits at the corner of Glenwood and Pratt, have a block from Kilmer. I spoke with someone at LSS as the staff was leaving. She showed no signs of panic, and said they're keeping an eye on the situation but had no immediate plans to close. LSS is a private school. They have signs on all of their doors that say, "All adults and children must wash their hands" as they enter the school. (Click to enlarge it.) So is one of the local bloggers, Craig Gernhardt, who has been breathlessly posting update after breathless update about the Kilmer case. Since the morning of April 29, he has posting 24 "updates" on the situation (when I looked at 5:50 p.m., April 30). That averages one update every 85 minutes; more often, really, since update #24 came well before 5:50 p.m. today. To be fair, much of what he's written has been tongue-in-cheek. For example, "Furthermore, [49th Ward Alderman] Joe Moore is leading the charge to create an ordinance banned [sic] swine flu in Chicago. After going though [sic] a few committee hearings, the swine flu ban is expected to reach a full city council vote in November." Y'okay, ha ha. Gernhardt cornered Ald. Moore on video on the 29th. Kilmer Elementary is just south of Moore's 49th Ward border, but there he was, jumping in front of every TV camera in the neighborhood, whoring for exposure. and asks him a very good question: "Why are you concerned about this when you've had a couple murders in the past six months in your ward? Shouldn't murders be as much of an issue as swine flu in the 40th Ward?" One of those murders was right outside of Moore's own ward service office at Jarvis and Greenview. Moore's answer: "Clearly this is a public health issue and it's important to get the information out." Moore is well known as a hypocrite to residents of his ward. He seems to be saying that a rash of murders, not to mention the endemic narcotics street trade in the 49th Ward, are not public health concerns. Although he rushed out to get on camera at Kilmer, Moore never rushes out to the scene of a murder. He never stands vigil on any corners known to be hot spots of gang activity or drug sales. Judging from his actions, Joe Moore is indeed more interested a single case of influenza than in the greater, longer-term effects of crack sales, murder, prostitution, robbery, sex offenses, kidnapping, and... the list is endless. If only the victims of those crimes were suffering from a bout of influenza. Perhaps then Mr. Moore would show some public sympathy for them. Maybe, but only if he could be guaranteed that television crews would be there. Moore and the Chicago City Council happily allow unregulated, uninspected vendors to sell their unrefrigerated food from filthy plywood carts on the streets of Rogers Park. But a case of flu in a neighboring ward? Now that's a public health issue. There is now at least one more suspected case of swine flu in Rogers Park. Loyola University's campus in Rogers Park is just a few blocks from Kilmer Elementary. After Moore was done whoring his media time, "officials at Loyola University Chicago announced later in the day that one Loyola student, a 20-year-old male who lived on campus, had probably contracted swine flu." (Source) It is "suspected," not yet confirmed. Only the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta can officially declare it to be a particular strain of influenza, and testing can take from 24 to 72 hours. Mayor Daley is another hypocrite in the whole swine flu hype, too. Vice President Joe Biden was criticized by Daley for a comment he made on NBC News' Today show on April 30. "I would tell members of my family, and I have, 'I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now,''' Biden said (source). Now, far be for me to agree with Joe Biden, but that comment seems like good advice. Yet Mayor Daley, the man who is ordering entire schools shut down because of individual cases of influenza, criticized Biden for saying that. Daley's response was self-contradictory. "We all have to get to work. I mean, we’d be staying out of our cars. We’d be staying out of subways, out of elevators – how about elevators? No, no, no. You have to remember – we have to … use some common sense." (source). Uh, yes, and Biden's advice was good common sense. If you don't have to be in a closed, confined space, don't be. We all have to get to work, Daley tells us. That's easy for him to say - the anti-gun mayor has armed security people to chauffeur him anywhere he wants to go. Daley doesn't need to worry about catching anything on a bus or subway. But what if you get sick? Or what if you're afraid that many others around you might be ill - and contagious? It makes sense, under such circumstances, to take a car instead of public transit if you can, or take the steps up a flight or two instead of an elevator. Daley has no problem, apparently, with you or your child catching the flu on a CTA train or bus, or in an elevator. Just don't catch it in a public school. Meanwhile, everyone who has come in contact with the Loyola student or the 12-year old at Kilmer are free to ride in crowded elevators, subway cars, or stroll through crowded shopping malls. Should they be stopped? No, and in that regard Daley is right and it exposes the lie that all the hype about this version of swine flu really is. This all reminds of me a quote by local boy Rahm Emanuel, a good friend of Joe Biden. Emanuel said, "It's important not to let a crisis go to waste." (Source) That applies to any crisis, I suppose, whether it's real, manufactured, or greatly exaggerated. The weird thing is that nobody seems to taking any great advantage of the "crisis" of pending pandemic swine flu except for some of the pharmaceutical companies, and they've essentially been given marching orders by government. So, if this "crisis" really is a crisis, it seems that the politicians are letting it go to waste. Why not just declare martial law now and order us all to wear masks under threat of summary execution? Why no drastic measures for what they keep saying is a drastic situation? It makes no sense. If the government is so concerned with this health care "crisis," and if it's really about to become a pandemic, as the World Health Organization (WHO) is now warning, why are people not being quarantined? I am not advocating quarantining, but if the government truly believes this to be such a threat, then why are they not using that option? Why are people like Mayor Daley not praising Joe Biden for his comment, and even urging citizens to avoid unnecessary trips on public transportation? The short answer: It's all B.S. It's not really the big deal they say it is. It's just another wave of flu, but it's a great opportunity for camera face time and, by God, it sure sells a lot of newspapers. Oh, and Big Pharma is loving this, too. As I walked around Rogers Park, I spotted two youngster sitting on some steps behind Kilmer Elementary. Two boys, about 14 or 15 years old, chatting after dinner. I asked them if they knew about the school being closed. They did. I asked if they were scared by all the talk of the swine flu. "I'm not scared," one said with smile, "maybe a little bit worried, but I wash my hands." "Are you washing your hands more now than before this swine flu?" I asked him. "No," he said, "I always wash my hands. That's just good hygiene. People should wash their hands." His friend was nodding as he said this. Perhaps Joe Biden should have just suggested hand washing. 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