There have been no swine flu deaths in Florida thus far, but the spreading pandemic caused at least one loss Sunday – the presidential handshake for new Florida A & M University graduates.
The Commencement Committee and Student Health Services announced the precaution during the first of three commencement ceremonies, where former President Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker. Graduates had to walk across the stage without getting their traditional warm, firm handshake from FAMU President James Ammons.
“…the Office of Environmental Health and Safety and the Office of Public Safety and FAMU are closely watching the developments of the swine flu,” announced Solomon Badger member of the board of trustees. “We are asking students, faculty and staff to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of influenza.”
Many students said they were not bothered by the precaution; many in the crowd actually chuckled. Most said they were focused on crossing the stage.
“I didn’t take it personal; it was necessary, health comes first,” said Ebony Johnson, 22, a graduate of the college of arts and sciences from Orlando. “I overlooked it because I didn’t want anything to hinder my victory.”
The university provided surgical masks to anyone who wanted them and hand sanitizer was on hand near entrances and in bathrooms throughout the Multipurpose Center Teaching Gymnasium. Some attendees heeded the precautions and wore the face mask provided by the university.
“We should always take all precautionary measures when dealing with cases like this,” said Virginia Yon, 27, a social work graduate from Bradenton, Fla. “You never know what’s out there.”
Friday Governor Charlie Crist declared a public health emergency, which gives the state broad powers to protect public health. In addition, the Florida Department of Health announced Saturday they are now monitoring 15 probable cases of swine flu throughout the state; a total of three cases of swine flu have now been confirmed.
“The swine flu pandemic is something the entire world is facing. I totally understand the president’s reservations,” said Rokeisha Nikdabney, 22, a political science graduate from Miami. “Although this is a monumental time for students, he has to maintain his health, I respect that.”
According to an advisory posted on the school’s website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports additional confirmed human infections and hospitalizations.
The latest confirmed case is in Orlando, where the Orange County Department of Health announced that a 14-year-old girl, who visited Orlando with her family from Mexico, has fully recovered from her symptoms and has returned home to Mexico after visiting Disney.
According to the World Health Organization, doctors have confirmed 787 cases of the H1N1 flu virus in 17 countries and, for the first time, a sick farm worker has infected pigs.
“Everyone has to take protective measures,” said Jay Legeai, father of architecture graduate, James Legeai. “I wish they would have been able to shake hands though, but staying safe is most important.”