Saying it gives the government more power to fight the deadly swine flu, President Obama on Saturday declared the H1N1 virus a national emergency.
The official declaration comes at a time when the “rapid increase in the illness,” as Obama describes the pandemic, has the nation alarmed.
"The 2009 H1N1 pandemic continues to evolve. The rates of illness continue to rise rapidly within many communities across the nation, and the potential exists for the pandemic to overburden health care resources in some localities," Obama said in a statement. “Thus, in recognition of the continuing progression of the pandemic, and in further preparation as a nation, we are taking additional steps to facilitate our response."
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An administration official told CNN that the declaration is "an important tool in our kit going forward," a "proactive measure that's not in response to any new development."
It dissolves bureaucratic strictures and thus "gives the federal government more power to help states" in treating patients and moving equipment to where it's most needed, CNN reports.
Now, officials say, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius can “temporarily waive or modify certain requirements" – like those embodied in Medicare, Medicaid and state Children's Health Insurance programs – to help medical facilities establish emergency plans to deal with the virus.
To date, at least 20,000 have been hospitalized and more than 1,000 have died from the H1N1 virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control an d Prevention.