- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Top U.S. officials urged businesses Wednesday to suspend the common policy of demanding a doctor’s note from employees on extended sick leave to keep health clinics from potentially being overwhelmed when the new H1N1 flu strengthens this fall.

The requested was in addition to a six-page guideline that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other top U.S. officials announced at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

“Let’s not play wait and see,” said Mrs. Sebelius, acknowledging some businesses might be delaying flu plans as they try to survive in the recession.

The virus — originally called “swine flu” — has spread into every U.S. state and around the world since discovered in Mexico in April. It was declared a pandemic two months later. The World Health Organization reports 1,462 death worldwide as a result of the virus.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asked executives running critical U.S. infrastructures to pay special attention to the guidelines, which call for staggering shifts and cross-training employees.

Mrs. Napolitano said she visited critical cites across the country this summer — including Gulf Coast oil refineries last week — to urge their assistance.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said the best idea for employees who are sick or become ill on the job is: Go home and stay home.

“In America, we tend to praise the Puritan work ethic,” he said. “But this season, we need to praise the common sense ethic.”

There have been 7,511 people hospitalize in U.S. and 51 death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The WHO reports 177,457 laboratory-confirmed cases around the world and says the number is likely larger because many countries are counting cases only confirmed in clinics and testing only those with severe illness or at high risk. Officials also say as many as 2 billion people will eventually be infected.

The U.S. officials urged Americans to get flu vaccines and repeated the H1N1 vaccine would be available by early October and that pregnant employees and health-care workers should be among the first to receive a shot. Shots for seasonal flu are already available.

The government last week issued guideline for schools and next plans to issue ones for colleges and universities.

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