by Kas

Joe Biden was on NBC earlier saying, “I would tell members of my family — and I have — I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now.” As examples of confined places, he mentions planes and subways.

Mr. Vice President, would you ride the train to Delaware tonight?  Say it ain’t so, Joe.  We know that you live in D.C. now and that your daily commute in that “confined place” has been eliminated for the time being.  But, what about the rest of us?  Who uses the “confined places” of public transportation the most?  Who is inside those “confined places” classrooms?  And how do these people perceive risks associated with “germs”?

I have a feeling they might feel like the young man on the street interviewed on the 10:00 PM news the other night.  He felt that he was prepared for the flu because he had stocked up on his face masks and antibiotics. Evidently, we still have a long way to go in getting across the messages that antibiotics won’t help viral illnesses, and that using them unnecessarily contributes to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

Maybe they don’t understand what it means when they hear the terms H1N1 virus or N95 filtering facepiece.

Maybe they were flipping through the television stations the other day and, like me, happened to stop on the Christian Broadcasting Network right in time to hear Pat Robertson on the 700 Club state (I’m paraphrasing) that to improve fuel efficiency, airplanes maximize recirculation of air, thus decreasing the indoor air quality on planes (resulting in everyone breathing in each other’s air.) Here’s a YouTube clip – it starts at 3:15.

Shame on you Joe.  Shame on you Pat.  You know that your names and your faces are more widely-recognized than any public health official’s name or face.  You know that you bear the responsibility to get it right not just because you’ve both gotten it wrong before, but because there are a lot of people out there who still like you and may be inclined to believe at face value what you’re saying.

The public health community has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to assess and characterize risks.  If you think that the air inside these “confined places” is unsafe, then let’s do something about it.  Please promote and preserve human health and safety by getting the facts from a public health subject matter expert and referring or deferring to that source.

Kas is an industrial hygienist studying public health in the DC metro area.