Obama warns of more school closings

As worries of a possible pandemic intensified April 29 amid reports of the first death in the United States from swine flu, President Obama said school leaders should consider closing their schools temporarily if they think any of their students might be infected–and he urged parents to prepare for this contingency as well.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said he wants Americans to know the government is doing “whatever is necessary” to contain the emerging health threat, which was blamed for a U.S. death for the first time on April 29.

Flu experts have said any school closings that occur because of an outbreak of swine flu might not last for just a day or two–a shutdown probably would have to last a month or longer to be effective.

Obama said his thoughts and prayers were with the family of the 23-month-old Mexican child who traveled to Texas seeking treatment and who became the nation’s first reported swine flu death. The president’s remarks came at an event welcoming Sen. Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party, and hours before Obama’s televised news conference set for later that evening.

“This is obviously a serious situation,” Obama said, and one that “we are closely and continuously monitoring.” He urged local authorities to be vigilant in reporting any suspected flu cases.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama, who has been receiving swine flu briefings several times a day, was updated late on April 28. The president decided he needed to underscore that the situation was growing more serious, leading to his remarks at the day’s event, Gibbs said.

Emphasizing a recommendation made earlier this week by federal health officials, Obama said authorities at schools with confirmed or suspected cases of swine flu “should strongly consider temporarily closing so that we can be as safe as possible.”

He advised parents to be ready for such disruptions.

“If the situation becomes more serious and we have to take more extensive steps, then parents should also think about contingencies if schools in their areas do temporarily shut down, figuring out and planning what their child care situation would be,” Obama advised.

Just moving children from schools to day care centers in infected areas “is not a good solution,” he said.

Texas education officials have postponed all public high school athletic and academic competitions until May 11 because of the swine flu outbreak.