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Boston Herald October 14, 2005

Mitt: Stock up on food, water in case of a flu emergency

By Jessica Heslam

Gov. Mitt Romney is warning Bay Staters to buy extra groceries for use in an emergency and is considering having health officials stockpile larger amounts of medications in anticipation of a possible worldwide flu outbreak.

``We expect that in the next 10 years we will have a pandemic but we don't know when and we can't be 100 percent certain,'' Romney said yesterday. ``We are taking action to be prepared.''

Romney has asked state public health officials to have ``plans in place'' to prepare for a pandemic influenza similar to the 1918 outbreak that killed a half-million Americans. A major portion of that planning is done, said Romney, who met with public health and safety officials yesterday.

Romney has given the state Department of Public Health 30 days to look into whether the National Guard and public college dorms could house the sick should there be an outbreak. Currently, Massachusetts has 8,000 ``surge capacity beds'' - just enough to cover a potential surge, the governor said.

Over the next several months, Romney will encourage people to buy an extra day's worth of food during their weekly grocery store trip to prepare for a possible flu pandemic or other emergency. Romney said the ``food pipeline'' could be temporarily interrupted should an outbreak occur.

While acknowledging that most people can't buy a month's worth of food at once, the governor said if people bought extra food each week they would have eight or nine days' worth of food storage.

``It's just good emergency planning,'' Romney said. ``This will serve well in the event of a pandemic or natural disaster or any other kinds of emergency.''

The H5NI bird strain has so far killed 60 people in Asia. Experts fear the virus could mutate into a human strain.

Several security experts said stockpiling food wasn't a bad idea, while one doctor called it ``over the top.''

``I plan to do it,'' said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org.. ``My gut is telling me that his suggestion of eight days doesn't sound like enough.''

Dr. Rick Blum, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said stockpiling food ``strikes me as a little bit over the top.''

Brandeis Professor Rovert Art said it's ``probably not a bad idea'' to have some bottled water and canned food in the house. Art said government officials have to walk a fine line. If they don't warn people and disaster strikes, they're blamed. If they warn people and nothing happens, they're labeled as alarmists.


Copyright 2005, Boston Herald