Northfield’s H1N1 public preparedness campaign: when will it begin?

B00526_H1N1_flu_smlThe White House is hosting a H1N1 Summit today and sent out an email (text below) urging communities to begin public H1N1 preparedness/awareness campaigns. As far as I can tell, there’s no H1N1 preparedness happening in Northfield. There’s no information on the City of Northfield’s Emergency Information web page, nor on the Northfield Hospital’s Emergency Communication & Disaster Planning web page, nor on the Northfield School District’s site. (continued)

I blogged about this in April. And in May, the Nfld News reported that “local organizations are rolling out their emergency preparedness plans.”

But two months have gone by and there’s no public evidence of it.

Ten years ago, I was part of Northfield’s Ad Hoc Y2K Task Force that was meeting weekly at the Goodbye Blue Monday Coffeehouse.  We had a private email list for the group to use for planning, and for the public, NCO/ hosted a Y2K website and a very active discussion topic in the NCO Web Cafe. I wrote a piece titled Y2K: The Northfield Way that was part of MPR’s online Y2K Coverage

It’s time for Northfield’s institutional leaders to begin an H1N1 public awareness/preparedness campaign and to include the use of social media in its communications toolkit.

Here’s the White House email:

John O. Brennan, The White House <>
Date: Thu, Jul 9, 2009 at 10:55 AM
Subject: Preparing for H1N1 and the upcoming flu season

As the President’s advisor on Homeland Security, I am passing along the following message from Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, who are leading the efforts to prepare our Nation for the coming flu season.

Fellow Americans,

This spring we were confronted with an outbreak of a troubling flu virus called 2009-H1N1. As the fall flu season approaches, it is critical that we reinvigorate our preparedness efforts across the country in order to mitigate the effects of this virus on our communities.

Today, we are holding an H1N1 Influenza Preparedness Summit in conjunction with the White House to discuss our Nation’s preparedness. We are working together to monitor the spread of 2009-H1N1 and to prepare to initiate a voluntary fall vaccination program against the 2009-H1N1 flu virus, assuming we have a safe vaccine and do not see changes in the virus that would render the vaccine ineffective.

But the most critical steps to mitigating the effects of 2009-H1N1 won’t take place in Washington — they will take place in your homes, schools and community businesses.

Taking precautions for this fall’s flu season is a responsibility we all share. Visit to make sure you are ready and learn how you can help promote public awareness.

We are making every effort to have a safe and effective vaccine available for distribution as soon as possible, but our current estimate is that it won’t be ready before mid-October. This makes individual prevention even more critical. Wash your hands regularly. Take the necessary precautions to stay healthy and if you do get sick, stay home from work or school.
We are doing everything possible to prepare for the fall flu season and encourage all Americans to do the same — this is a shared responsibility and now is the time to prepare.

Please visit to learn what steps you can take to prepare and do your part to mitigate the effects of H1N1.

Take Care,
Kathleen, Janet and Arne


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    In Friday’s NY Times: Obama Warns of Return of Swine Flu in the Fall.

    The Obama administration warned Americans on Thursday to be ready for an aggressive return of the swine flu virus in the fall, announcing plans to begin vaccinations in October and offering states and hospitals money to help them prepare.

    Both schools and businesses need to prepare for the possibility of several weeks of high absenteeism, Ms. Napolitano said. She also reminded governors that not only the obvious services, like hospitals and schools, would be affected.

    “As a former governor, I can say: make sure your payroll continues,” she said. “Whoever processes your checks, make sure they have a backup.”

    July 9, 2009
  2. Jim Haas said:

    The Rice County Public Health Department has a plan in place and they held a mock mass innoculation drill a few weeks ago at the county fairgrounds. Mary Ho, director of the county department, is, I believe, well informed and well prepared. She’s also an habitue of downtown Northfield — I can’t remember a time when I was downtown and didn’t see Mary. So…not to worry!

    July 10, 2009
  3. Jim Haas said:

    There was a story in the Faribault Daily News and a display outside the county board room for a couple of weeks.

    Perhaps Ms. Obremski’s next assignment could be this very story!

    July 11, 2009
  4. Mera Colling said:

    Yeah, right. I took my son in to get him tested for h1n1, and was told that it wasn’t necessary because we don’t have it in Northfield. The doctor then asked him if he traveled to Mexico lately, and when my son said no (he’s 15) the doctor said that there’s no need to test. That totally blew my mind! I wondered if this doctor knew or read anything about h1n1.

    July 13, 2009
  5. Mera Colling said:

    I forgot to add, that was last week, after the 4th of July weekend when we were traveling outside of Northfield. Yikes!

    July 13, 2009
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    I got this email from Supt. Chris Richardson:

    Griff, We had provided information on the front page of our website this spring based on direction from the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Health.  The last word we had from them in May was that we needed to treat this in the same way we were treating traditional seasonal flu outbreaks. 

    Understanding that new information and protocols would likely be developed over the summer, we pulled the old information from our website at the end of the school year.  We have been invited to a meeting hosted by Rice County on July 22nd to discuss the county wide response to a potential pandemic flu outbreak and will provide an update to parents and community members prior to the start of school.  We currently have a comprehensive Emergency and Crisis Management Plan and we are prepared to implement that plan as needed.

    July 14, 2009
  7. Griff Wigley said:

     I got this email from Mary Ho, Director of Public Health for Rice County:

    Hi, Griff:  

    As you are probably most interested in our activities that involve the City of Northfield, I listed below some of the county activities that we have worked on or are planning with Northfield representatives:

    The Rice County Emergency Medical Services Provider Council, which meets quarterly (since 1988) and also serves in an advisory capacity to Rice County Community Health Services in its emergency planning function, includes representatives from Northfield Hospital (Andrew Yurek) and the City of Northfield (Tim Isom)

    During the H1N1 outbreak this past spring, I and the emergency preparedness planner in our department met with Northfield representatives that included Chief Taylor, Andrew Yurek, Tim Isom, college staff, and others to set up lines of communication and discuss  various elements of response; one of the meetings was convened by the emergency services director in Faribault and included representatives from throughout Rice County

    Next week, to assist in preparing for seasonal influenza and the probable return/continuation of H1N1, our department is hosting a countywide meeting of representatives from government, health, education, and emergency services; many of the invitees are from Northfield

    On May 5, 2009 Rice County Public Health conducted a drive-through mass dispensing exercise at the Rice County Fairgrounds to test our ability to dispense medications to a large number of people in a relatively short amount of time; while most participants were probably from the Faribault area, Northfield residents did participate and Northfield Emergency Medical Services Provider Council members were briefed on the planning and invited to participate.  The event received extensive coverage in the Faribault Daily News and was announced the night before on WCCO television.

    Looking at our website, you can see that our emphasis is more on information to the public about H1N1 and related topics rather than on what we here at Rice County Public Health are doing to prepare for a pandemic.  Thus, I can see how it might appear that planning activities are not taking place.  That is not the case, however, and maybe I need to do more to let the public know what is being done.

    I am not going to join in the blog, but I am certainly willing to talk with you about what we are doing currently and are planning to do to be prepared for a public health emergency.

    Mary Ho, Director

    Rice County Public Health

    July 14, 2009
  8. Griff Wigley said:

    I asked Mary Ho about tomorrow’s county-wide meeting on H1N1 planning.

    1. Will you be able to post detailed info after your meeting tomorrow on your website? Include the names of all the people and their organizations?

    2. Is the meeting open to the media? The public? If so, when and where is it?

    Her reply:

    Griff, certainly anyone can attend our meetings.  The meeting is for a specific purpose and has an agenda and a list of invitees, but we are a public agency and if members of the public attend our meetings they are welcome.  The meeting is tomorrow afternoon from 2:30 to 4:00 in conference rooms 3A and 3B of the Rice County Government Services Building in Faribault.  The facilitator for the meeting is our emergency preparedness planner and I am sure that she will be preparing some kind of notes after the meeting.  I have no objection to posting them on our website and I am also not sure when they will be ready.

    July 21, 2009
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    Chris Richardson alerted me to the update now posted to the district’s web site:

    Rice County Meets to Discuss Pandemic Flu Preparations

    On July 22, representatives from Northfield Public Schools met with representatives from other school districts, hospitals, clinics, law enforcement, emergency services and other agencies in Rice County to discuss preparations for the potential increased recurrence of H1N1 Flu later this year. Discussion included resources available and challenges experienced during the initial emergence in April of 2009 as well as the current H1N1 situation and timeline for anticipated vaccine availability.

    The remainder of the meeting was used to look ahead at H1N1 response and planning for the potential increased recurrence of this flu strain this fall. The focus of the discussion was on providing county-wide information on H1NI and asking Rice County Health officials to be a key source for up-to-date information that can then be shared by the various groups with their communities. The development and distribution of a county-wide H1N1 screening tool that could help groups and individuals identify potential cases was also felt to be an important item. Discussions were also held on possible vaccination sites if large scale vaccinations were necessary as well as assuring preparation for meeting increased medical needs should the number of cases or the severity of the H1N1 flu virus increase.

    Because of the current status of H1N1 (symptoms similar to seasonal flu), the group is encouraging individuals to use the information provided by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which provide regular updates. You may access these organizations at and

    July 27, 2009
  10. Griff Wigley said:
    August 24, 2009
  11. Griff Wigley said:

    In today’s Strib: H1N1 flu is here and ‘gaining steam’ (I edited their headline to use the correct term for the flu):

    Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota expert, predicted that the number of cases will peak in the next six to eight weeks, sending absenteeism rates soaring from schools to businesses. “The bottom line is, it’s here,” Osterholm told the audience of health, business and government officials gathered in Brooklyn Center. He noted that “none of us can tell you, 12 hours from now, what this virus is going to do.” He said he won’t be surprised if major sporting events are canceled in the next few months because teams have too many players fighting the flu. “This train has left the station,” he said. “It’s moving and gaining steam.”

    Osterholm also warned that cases of the novel flu strain could peak before enough vaccine arrives, possibly in October. “I’m afraid too little vaccine is going to get here before the peak hits,” said Osterholm, director of the university’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

    September 15, 2009
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    From the Department of Redundancy Department on the Rice County Health page, there’s a sidebar link to What is Rice County doing to be ready for health emergencies?

    where we’re given no information but two links:

    • a broken link to ‘health/diseasepc.php’
    • a link back to the Rice County Health page.

    As H1N1 gets ready to peak in MN, there is still no visible public communications infrastructure in place for Rice County.

    I know, I know, the behind-the-scenes planning team has everything in place, the flu symptoms are mild for most people, and we, the public, should just wash our hands a lot.

    But if the pandemic shit hits the proverbial fan, it would be very helpful to have ONE SINGLE ONLINE RESOURCE that radio, tv, newpapers, and blogs could all promote as The Go-To Trusted Source for near real-time information, rumor dispelling, and calm leadership. A blog and a Twitter account is all it would take. Cost: zero.

    September 15, 2009
  13. Jane Moline said:

    There are a number of reported cases of H1N1 on campus at St. Olaf–and no doubt at Carleton as well. It’s here.

    September 17, 2009
  14. Patrick Enders said:

    There have been a couple of excellent articles in the New York Times this week on H1N1 influenza vaccination, and anxiety about influenza vaccination:

    Essay: Pregnancy Is No Time to Refuse a Flu Shot

    Pregnant women are deluged with advice about things to avoid: caffeine, paint, soft cheese, sushi….

    In a few contexts, the admonition is warranted; in most, it is merely inconvenient and anxiety provoking. But in the case of pandemic influenza, it may be deadly. With the second wave of swine flu at hand, and up to 50 percent of the public at risk, the usual mode of thinking about pregnancy and medications threatens to make a worrisome situation worse.

    The dangers of this mentality became frighteningly apparent this summer, when a study in The Lancet reported strikingly high rates of death and of complications like pneumonia in pregnant women with H1N1 influenza. Pregnancy meant a fourfold risk of hospitalization, sometimes with a tragic outcome; all the pregnant women who died had been relatively healthy to begin with.

    Don’t Blame Flu Shots for All Ills, Officials Say

    As soon as swine flu vaccinations start next month, some people getting them will drop dead of heart attacks or strokes, some children will have seizures and some pregnant women will miscarry. But those events will not necessarily have anything to do with the vaccine…

    Every year, there are 1.1 million heart attacks in the United States, 795,000 strokes and 876,000 miscarriages, and 200,000 Americans have their first seizure. Inevitably, officials say, some of these will happen within hours or days of a flu shot.

    The government “is right to expect coincident deaths, since people are dying every day, with or without flu shots,” said Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine and co-author of “The Epidemic That Never Was,” a history of the 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign.

    Officials are particularly worried about spontaneous miscarriages, because they are urging pregnant women to be among the first to be vaccinated. Pregnant women are usually advised to get flu shots, because they and their fetuses are at high risk of flu complications, but this year the pressure is greater. Expectant mothers are normally advised to avoid drugs, alcohol and anything else that might affect a fetus.

    “There are about 2,400 miscarriages a day in the U.S.,” said Dr. Jay C. Butler, chief of the swine flu vaccine task force at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “You’ll see things that would have happened anyway. But the vaccine doesn’t cause miscarriages. It also doesn’t cause auto accidents, but they happen.”…

    [T]he C.D.C, has compiled data on how many problems like heart attacks, strokes, miscarriages, seizures and sudden infant deaths normally occur. And it has broken those figures down for various high-priority vaccine groups, like pregnant women or children with asthma. When vaccinations begin, it plans to gather reports from vaccine providers, hospitals and doctors, looking for signs of adverse events, so it can detect problems before rumors grow.

    “Then we’ll try to verify the signal, see if it’s real,” Dr. Butler said. “Then we’ll try to see if it’s associated with the vaccine. If it is, we’ll say so. The process will be as transparent as we can make it.”

    September 29, 2009
  15. Jane McWilliams said:

    I called the Allina Clinic yesterday to make an appointment to get both the seasonal and H1N1 shots and was told they are out of both. Anyone know whether there are other places in town where shots are available? Or, is there a shortage everywhere?

    October 16, 2009
  16. Patrick Enders said:

    Griff, you wrote:

    Anyone know if the Nfld Hospital has instituted restrictions on visitations?

    People with coughs (let alone fevers) have always been requested to defer their visits until they are well. We’ve been more vigilant in enforcing this policy this year. I’m not aware of any further regulations that have been implemented, but I’m heading to the hospital this morning – I’ll try to remember to ask.

    October 20, 2009
  17. Kathie Galotti said:

    Griff (19) :

    I have to give kudos to the school district for their communication on H1N1–they have had daily postings on what’s going on, how many kids are out sick and at which schools. Other places in town have not been so forthcoming (for example, Carleton) started to post what they said were “weekly” updates, but nothing’s been updated from Oct 2.

    I’m pretty sure I now have h1n1–very worried about infecting my kids (and realize it’s probably inevitable–but for now I’m not letting them come in my room and I stay in my room when they are home-) . This is a miserable illness, and had shots been available I would definitely have signed up. My clinic is very vague on when stuff will be available–I realize it’s because they don’t know for sure, but it seems like they, like the school district, could post updates on their website around vaccine availability.

    Thank god I got a seasonal flu shot at Carleton when I could.

    October 21, 2009
  18. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks much for that update, Kathie. Get better! And stay the hell away from me. 😉

    October 23, 2009
  19. Peter Millin said:

    I am confused (as usual).

    If the regular flu kills around 20000 people every year, what raises the swine flu to a different level?

    Why aren’t we declaring every flu season a national emergency.

    How is the swine flu threat different from a regular flu threat?

    We knew about the swine flu since spring. if all agree that the swin e flu is so much more dangerous than regular flu….why don’t we have vaccination available? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to focus resources on the greater threat..rather than “wasting time” making vacines for the regular flu?

    I just hope it is not one of those “Never let a crisis go to waste”?

    October 25, 2009
  20. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Strib: Empty desks, offices: Cities plan for H1N1

    Those are some of the scenarios included in pandemic flu emergency and preparedness plans being developed in communities around the Twin Cities. Some are updating plans that were written in 2006 and 2007, when avian flu was a worry. Others are adapting emergency plans that were designed to cope with a tornado or flood.

    Planning for H1N1 ranges from big decisions, such as what city functions must continue and which can close first, to tiny but important details, such as who gets the keys to a room or who knows a computer password.

    “If absenteeism is high enough, we would have to temporarily eliminate or close offices,” he said. “Public works plays a vital part with water [supply] and snow removal. … We would try to keep emergency services like police and fire going, even if it’s necessary to work with other cities. We have agreements to share resources.”

    Worst-case scenarios in city “continuity of operations” plans are designed to handle employee absences as high as 40 to 50 percent. Bloomington, Golden Valley, Minneapolis, Burnsville, St. Louis Park, Roseville and other cities have tried to cross-train employees so they can back up critical departments such as payroll and utilities and departments that respond to emergencies. If absenteeism got high enough, nonessential offices like parks and recreation would temporarily close and services like property inspections would be suspended until the flu ebbed.

    Roseville has tweaked its procedures to add 72-hour emergency powers for the city manager and emergency management leaders to allow them to make emergency purchases or shut down large meeting sites in cooperation with the state without having to seek City Council approval.

    In Bloomington, city officials have run through “what-if” scenarios: What if 30 percent of the city’s workforce became sick? What if grocery stores had trouble getting food?

    November 2, 2009

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