Aside from making people sick, the Swine Flu scare could lessen business productivity, drain the local health department’s emergency fund and cut the legs out from under an already crippled U.S. economy.
Even though the flu scare is in its infancy with 40 people sickened, according to the Centers for Disease Control, it hasn’t stopped health officials from issuing warnings and financial experts from imagining the worst.
The El Paso County Department of Health is asking workers who feel sick, even mildly sick, to stay home, a tough pill to swallow for employers who likely could be running departments with fewer people because of layoffs forced by the economy.
Eugenio J. Alemán, senior economist for Wells Fargo, released a statement this morning saying the flu scare will add to this year’s weakness in economic activity among states that border Mexico and industries that depend on U.S. tourism south of the border.
“The border cities in Arizona, New Mexico, California will be affected but mostly in Texas, where the retail sector depends on Mexicans crossing the border to shop in the U.S.,” he said. “The importance of Mexican consumers crossing the U.S. Texas border to do their retail shopping activity in the U.S. has been well documented over the years. Thus, this sector will be severely affected by the partial closing of the borders that is occurring today.”
El Paso County Health Department Director Kandi Buckland said the potential for a flu epidemic is tough news to hear for an already budget-strapped department.
“We’re taking this very seriously, and our main job is to protect the public in times like this,” she said. “At this point people will need to take some basic precautions.”
She said workers should wash their hands often and those who feel sick should stay home.
“And maybe it’s a good time to stop shaking hands,” she said. “It sounds so basic but these are the only weapons we have in our arsenal now, and they’ve been proven to work. If folks can’t do that we’re going to see a lot more sick people.”
Buckland said that the task of alerting the public of the Swine Flu dangers will mean pulling staffers from programs like tobacco cessation and immunizations, which are programs paid for through grants.
“When we pull them from those programs, we have to pay back the grant from our $70,000 reserve emergency fund.”
The health department has created a English/Spanish Swine Flu information hotline that will operate from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. Call (877) 462-2911.