Wednesday, October 19, 2005


If a flu pandemic comes and there is a lot of absenteeiism, we need to plan to take care of people we don't think about often. Like prisoners. What if a third of the already understaffed guards and a third of a small clinic staff are out and a third or more of the inmates are sick? So I was glad to see this headline in a Chicago area news outlet: Jail Prepares for Avian Flu. About time, I thought.

Until I read the article:
With worldwide fears of avian influenza on the rise, local officials are taking a closer look at McHenry County's highest-risk population.

While the arrival of foreign federal prisoners promises to bring millions of dollars in cell-rental fees to county coffers, local public-health officials want to make sure that illegal immigrants do not also bring the bird flu.

Because the jail hosts a large number of immigration detainees from China, where infected poultry populations have been discovered, jail administrators are increasing vigilance for human cases in McHenry County, Jail Chief Tom Svoboda said. (Northwest Herald via CBS2, Chicago)
Don't get me wrong. It isn't bad to be vigilant about imported infection. But two things about this bother me. The first is the rather obvious xenophobic undercurrent that will only intensify as fears intensify. This is another reason Bush's military quarantine initiative is of worrisome. In times of fear, nativist tendencies seize on whatever weapons are available. Well-off whites will have no trouble evading a quarantine. It will likely fall disproportionately on immigrant groups. The second thing is that there still seems no evidence of planning to manage the consequences of a major community outbreak of influenza that will cripple the routine operations of the jail, possibly resulting in the abandoment of the inmates.

As we know from the Katrina nursing home patients, it happens.