The Center for Disease Control’s January 16th special session advising Americans on what to do in the event of a nuclear war will now be about what to do in the event of, uh, flu season.
The topic for CDC’s Public Health Grand Rounds on January 16 will now focus on influenza... To date, this influenza season is notable for the sheer volume of flu that most of the United States is seeing at the same time, which can stress health systems. The vast majority of this activity has been caused by influenza A H3N2, associated with severe illness in young children and people 65 years and older.
CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben told the Times the panel would give health professionals information on how to limit the flu’s spread and on dealing with shortages of antiviral medication. The CDC did not comment on whether “publicity” of the nuclear apocalypse session affected its decision to pivot to flu preparedness, or whether the White House consulted on the change in topics.
The originally scheduled event was titled “Public Health Response to a Nuclear Detonation” and would have addressed topics like “Preparing for the Unthinkable,” “Public Health Resources to Meet Critical Components of Preparedness,” and “Roadmap to Radiation Preparedness.” CDC officials would have advised the nation on how to manage inevitably over-stressed emergency and public health resources following a nuclear blast, as well as handed down instructions like sheltering in place for at least 24 hours after a detonation to avoid contact with radioactive fallout.
If the CDC’s decision to choose a different topic was intended to lessen any potential embarrassment to Donald Trump’s administration—which is currently feeling the heat over its belligerent and reckless response to North Korea’s nuclear program—events since Friday may have made the gesture slightly pointless. On Saturday, human error caused a statewide alert system in Hawaii to mass-text residents with warnings of an imminent “ballistic missile threat,” causing panic, sending people scrambling for cover, and once again drawing widespread attention to the nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula.
As the Times noted, this actually is a pretty bad flu season and the CDC says it will revisit the topic of surviving the nuclear apocalypse at a later date, so perhaps prioritizing an established threat over a rather more existential one is still a productive use of everyone’s time.