Hawaii air travelers don masks, CDC activates 'emergency operations center'

Shelly Skraban
Shelly Skraban
Lynn Arong
Lynn Arong
Alvin Wong
Alvin Wong
Bill Gallo
Bill Gallo

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (KHNL) - The U.S. reports its first death from the swine flu virus. Doctors at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston say a 23-month old child died Monday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed just Monday morning, that the patient was infected with the H-1-N-1 virus. Health officials do not believe the toddler contracted the disease in Texas, but instead was infected in Mexico City, before entering the U.S.

Here are the latest numbers from the CDC. Still no confirmed cases of swine flu in Hawaii. Out of the 91 cases in the U.S., 51 cases are in New York , and 16 in Texas. There are also 14 cases in California and one in Reno, Nevada.

If the virus spreads to Hawaii, experts say it's highly likely it will come from passengers flying into our airports.

This has become a common sight in Mexico and states that have confirmed cases of swine flu. Now, they're starting to pop up at Hawaii airports.

A woman who flew in from Japan says she wore a mask because she was coughing, and didn't want to spread her germs.

"I say good for her," said Shelly Skraban, an air traveler visiting from Seattle, Washington. "She needs to protect herself to feel comfortable traveling. The more power to her."

Air travelers have become more cautious ever since swine flu hit Mexico.

"At first we were nervous," said Lynn Arong, who is also visiting from Seattle. "We actually went to the airport pretty early, maybe four hours early, just to make sure we went through the lines."

This couple just came home after visiting their son in San Diego, one of a handful of U.S. cities with confirmed swine flu cases. They wore masks on the plane.

"I think it's just additional protection," said Alvin Wong, who lives in Makiki. "You don't know who's sitting next to you, where they came from, who they might have been exposed to."

With the number of swine flu cases going up, the CDC has taken action.

"CDC has basically activated its Emergency Operations Center," said Bill Gallo, CDC's senior management official. "They have activated their SNS, which is the Strategic National Stockpile."

This means they've declared a "public health emergency," releasing large quantities of medications and personal protection equipment. The CDC's also working closely with the state department of health.

"They're very well prepared for this kind of event," said Gallo. "They're already activated their own systems and are doing a very good job in response."

And that response has people reassured for the time being.

"I feel that the government and everybody is going to be able to take care of what needs to be done to keep everybody safe," said Skraban.

Honolulu International Airport has one of the most comprehensive pandemic flu programs in the U.S, and it goes through comprehensive pandemic training exercises with members from 15 health and government agencies.