HHS secretary says U.S. prepared for bioterrorism; public not so sure

Sunday, September 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson says the United States is prepared to take care of any kind of biological attack, but the public is not so sure.

In an interview to be broadcast on CBS' ''60 Minutes'' Sunday night, Thompson said: ``We've got to make sure that people understand that they're safe. And that we're prepared to take care of any contingency, any consequence that develops from any kind of bioterrorism attack.''

Thompson said eight staging areas around America are each stocked with 50 tons of medical supplies _ including vaccines, antibiotics, gas masks and ventilators _ that can be moved within hours to the site of any bioterrorist attack. The secretary also said that 7,000 medical personnel are ready to respond to any crisis, anywhere in the country.

Thompson said he does not have a gas mask or believe that one is necessary. ``How would you be able to utilize it? Are you going to have a gas mask with you 24 hours a day?''

``I don't think the American people should be scared into believing that they have to have a gas mask,'' Thompson said.

The public, as well as many healt experts and officials, apparently are not yet convinced.

Almost half of Americans, 46 percent, in a Newsweek poll released Saturday said that they are not too confident that national and local governments in this country are prepared to handle an attack with biochemical weapons. Just over eight in 10 thought the use of such weapons is at least somewhat likely.

The poll of 1,000 adults taken Thursday and Friday has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.