President Bush is expected to approve soon a national pandemic influenza response plan that identifies more than 300 specific tasks for federal agencies, including determining which frontline workers should be the first vaccinated and expanding Internet capacity to handle what would probably be a flood of people working from their home computers.
The Treasury Department is poised to sign agreements with other nations to produce currency if U.S. mints cannot operate. The Pentagon, anticipating difficulties acquiring supplies from the Far East, is considering stockpiling millions of latex gloves. And the Department of Veterans Affairs has developed a drive-through medical exam to quickly assess patients who suspect they have been infected.
The document is the first attempt to spell out in some detail how the government would detect and respond to an outbreak, and continue functioning through what could be an 18-month crisis, which in a worst-case scenario could kill 1.9 million Americans. Bush was briefed on a draft of the implementation plan on March 17. He is expected to approve the plan within the week, but it continues to evolve, said several administration officials who have been working on it.
[...] To keep the 1.8 million federal workers healthy and productive through a pandemic, the Bush administration would tap into its secure stash of medications, cancel large gatherings, encourage schools to close and shift air traffic controllers to the busier hubs -- probably where flu had not yet struck. Retired federal employees would be summoned back to work, and National Guard troops could be dispatched to cities facing possible "insurrection," said Jeffrey W. Runge, chief medical officer at the Department of Homeland Security.
The administration hopes to help contain the first cases overseas by rushing in medical teams and supplies. "If there is a small outbreak in a country, it may behoove us to introduce travel restrictions," Runge said, "to help stamp out that spark."
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