Tester questions Homeland Security Secretary about swine flu’s impact on Montana

Senator says ‘sound science’ should lead the way in making border decisions

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today zeroed in on America’s plans for dealing with the worldwide swine flu outbreak, only hours after the nation’s first confirmed death caused by the contagious disease.

Tester discussed the outbreak with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano this morning, during Napolitano’s first Congressional hearing since the outbreak.

Tester praised Napolitano for her response to the outbreak so far, noting that federal, state and local governments have worked together to protect all Americans from the flu strain.

“It’s good news when all parts of government step up to the plate and really do their job to rethink their flu response plans,” Tester said.  “But there’s still some things we need to iron out.”

One of those things, Tester said, is identifying potential victims of swine flu as they cross America’s borders.  On America’s southern border with Mexico, where the disease has hit the hardest, agents are monitoring and even temporarily isolating suspected victims of the disease who want to enter the United States.

Montana shares with Canada a 545-mile border and more than a dozen ports of entry, all of which benefit Montana’s economy, Tester said.

“We need to let science lead the way here and make reasonable decisions—rational decisions—based on sound science,” Tester said about the possibility of temporarily closing the border.

At last report, Canada had several cases of swine flu in British Columbia and Nova Scotia, Napolitano said.

Tester also asked about Montana’s 45 rural and frontier Critical Access Hospitals, many of which are connected to nursing homes.

Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) responded by saying her agency is already getting information to rural health care facilities about preventing and controlling swine flu.  She added the CDC is working on ways to enhance health care in rural facilities should they need to ramp up their services due to a major outbreak.

The U.S. confirmed its first fatal case of swine flu earlier today.  The victim was a toddler in Texas.  As of Wednesday, fewer than 100 cases of swine flu have been confirmed in the United States.