Smallpox Outbreaks, Bush Calls for Calm, Shopping
December 7, 2002
By David Albrecht
DC - "The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta confirmed
early this afternoon that smallpox outbreaks are underway
in eight American cities. The cities are: New York, Baltimore,
Raleigh NC, Jacksonville FL, San Antonio, New Orleans, St.
Louis and Seattle. CDC confirmation of additional outbreaks
in Los Angeles, San Diego, Salt Lake City and Santa Fe, NM
is expected by late tonight.
CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding stated that a bio-terror
attack is a foregone conclusion as the cause of the epidemic:
"There is no other possible explanation for the multiple simultaneous
outbreaks we are seeing now. We are proceeding on the assumption
that this is part of a terrorist attack plan." Smallpox was
eliminated as a natural disease in the late 1970s, although
the US and Russia retained viral stockpiles for research and
Neither CDC nor the Public Health Service has given definitive
figures on the number of victims so far, though PHS estimates
initial caseloads "in the low thousands", according to an
anonymous source. A doctor at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St.
Louis, also speaking off the record, gave figures of 44 dead
and 237 confirmed infected (including fatalities) since victims
began turning up in emergency rooms three days ago. St. Louis
appears to be one of the areas hardest-hit by the attack,
although official confirmation of the death toll is still
pending, both in St. Louis and around the country. Further
figures or estimates from other cities were lacking at press
President Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office
at 4:00 PM EST. Referring to the smallpox epidemic as "a cowardly
attack on America by those who hate our freedoms," the president
spent relatively little time discussing countermeasures and
quarantines. Instead, in a bid to shore up consumer confidence
and slumping financial markets, he urged uninfected Americans
to shop, spend and invest. In his words, "A new car, a Florida
vacation or a mink coat gives terrorists a clear message -
you have not won!"
The president's schedule did not allow time for a formal
press conference, but reporters were able to shout a few questions
during the photo op before the speech. One asked for comment
on the videotape recently released by the Arab TV network
Al-Jazeera showing Osama bin Laden inoculating a suicide volunteer
with the smallpox virus. Bush stated that "The fight against
terror isn't about just one man. It's about rooting out those
who fund and support terrorism." The president noted that
the Al-Jazeera studios and transmitters had already been precision-bombed
by U.S. Central Command forces stationed in the Persian Gulf
region, and that he "didn't expect to hear from Osama again"
Corporate America responded quickly to the president's call
for confidence. Detroit's Big Three promptly rolled out a
new patriotic sale promotion, jointly announcing "Red Dot
Specials", which will give new car buyers one year before
they make their first payment, in combination with 0% financing
for qualified buyers. Tiffany's and Bloomingdale's in New
York announced deep discounts on Kate Spade and Versace designer
face masks, and Target announced an "Epidemic of Savings Sale"
in an attempt to cut heavy inventories. Economists attributed
consumers' lackluster initial response to cool weather, a
natural slowdown following a busy prior month in retail, and
the presence of large numbers of heavily armed police and
National Guard troops blocking access to some major metro
areas and selected interstate highways.
On Wall Street, the Dow finished down 868.34, the S & P 500
was down 154.76 and the tech-heavy NASDAQ was off 367.84.
Street-watchers noted that much of the relatively downbeat
session was due to profit taking, sub-par earnings in the
tech sector and a triple-witching hour in the commodities
and futures markets. Lou Dobbs of CNN's popular "Moneyline"
mentioned that "sheer rending-your-own-face-with-your-fingernails
panic" might have played a secondary role.
President Bush said relatively little in his speech about
exactly what measures would be taken in cities and regions
attempting to deal with smallpox. He said that he and Tom
Ridge, working through the new Department of Homeland Security,
would allow "full latitude" to local and state governments.
"We don't pretend to have all the answers. We've never believed
that all wisdom resides in Washington. In many cases, mayors
and governors know better than we do as to what needs to be
done." Bush did announce that INS had instituted a "temporary"
shutdown of all incoming international flights and that Coast
Guard crews in full biohazard gear would board and search
all inbound ships. Further details, he stated, would be up
on the White House website sometime next week.
The president did promise substantial emergency federal aid
to state and local governments to help in dealing with the
crisis. However, there may be some difficulty in steering
extra funding through the House. Majority Leader Tom DeLay
(R-TX) has already denounced the idea of "free rides" for
"states and cities that can't control their panicky residents."
DeLay has also announced that he will not allow block grants
to non-federal health departments without careful systematic
review. Capitol Hill insiders believe that DeLay's intransigence
stems from concerns among pro-life Republican politicians.
Many, including Georgia GOP Chair Ralph Reed, are concerned
that money transferred to states would allow intra-budget
transfers within states that might allow state tax dollars
to be diverted to health clinics that might discuss abortion
with smallpox victims who might be pregnant. Neither Bush
nor DeLay were available for comment on the emergency spending