“Planes are germy anyway,” CNN Executive Producer Jennifer Bernstein said to me over the phone today. I was talking to her about how paranoid I got while flying this week because of swine flu.
I travel by plane a few times a week, mostly for work. I’m in the air enough to earn platinum miles status on Delta and a few other airlines. (This reminds me, I need to get rid of all those US Airways miles from my stint in Philadelphia. But I digress.)
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/01/lemon.don.large.jpg caption="Don Lemon receives Alumni Distinguished Acheivement Award from Brooklyn College."]
I flew to New York last Sunday morning to attend an awards ceremony at my alma mater, Brooklyn College. I had just anchored three hours of swine flu coverage, and all I could think about was being in a confined space with a few hundred other people. At least one of them was bound to have been in Mexico recently.
I found myself looking around at people, especially the people who looked tan, like they had been on a beach vacation. The couple sitting across from me fit the profile. They were freshly sunned. They wore shorts, flip-flops and slept for most of the two-hour trip to Kennedy International Airport. Oh, and that’s another thing. I hadn't flown in or out of Kennedy International in years. I usually fly to LaGuardia, sometimes Newark. But rarely do I fly into Kennedy International.
(I’m italicizing International for obvious reasons. I felt it greatly raised my chances of coming into contact with an international traveler who had been in contact with swine flu.)
I tried to relax. Even though I was exhausted from working late the night before, I couldn’t. I heard every cough, every sniffle, every sneeze. “Don’t you people cover your mouths?” I kept thinking to myself as I looked around to see people coughing into the headrests in front of them.
I thought about the last time I had this uneasy feeling while flying. It was a few years ago during the SARS outbreak. On late notice, NBC sent me to Toronto from New York to do a quick story on SARS for The Today Show. “Fly up and fly back,” they said. I ended up staying there for two weeks. Needless to say I had to buy clothes.
Then, no one spoke the entire plane ride to Canada. In fact, the plane had relatively few passengers; not empty, but sparse. There were people wearing surgical masks on the flight and in the Toronto airport because of SARS. There were people wearing surgical masks on the Toronto streets. And just as I arrived, the incidences of people becoming ill started to increase; thus my two-week stint.
I interviewed a number of people who had come down with SARS. One elderly man in particular stands out in my mind. I wasn’t afraid but my crew was. The sound tech placed the microphone on the man's front lawn and walked away from it. His wife walked outside, retrieved the microphone and then placed it on him inside the house. He sat in the front window of his living room so we could get a clear camera shot of him. I stood on the sidewalk and interviewed him from about 50 feet away. I was embarrassed. But I did not have children. My crew did. And they said they didn’t want to take any strange bugs home to their families. I certainly understood that. By the way, we left the expensive microphone and the cable with the couple to keep. The camera crew didn’t want to risk it.
Suddenly, recalling that experience eased my fears. I realized how many of us had overacted during that outbreak. Sadly, people had died then. But Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) faded from the headlines. And as I sat in the crowded plane the other day at Kennedy, I prayed now that swine flu would do the same. I relaxed and took the attendant up on her offer of a fruit plate for breakfast. I opened up my favorite section of the Sunday New York Times, “The Week In Review.” And I quietly gathered my thoughts about what I’d say as I accepted the alumni award for distinguished achievement.
If it was time for me to cross paths with the swine flu bug, then so be it. Grandma always said, “Life is for the living.” And she was right. Just keep living, I thought.
But first I had to go wash my hands. Again!
Although I do not like to fly and will only do it if I can't get to my destination any other way, I do not belive that airplanes are "germy". I am an ashtmatic along with a fairly week immune system I and have been on a plane with sick people coughing and sneezing and have never gotten sick. There is nothing to worry about unless someone is standing in your face coughing and sneezing. The airplane air is cleaner than the air coming from your car air conditioner.
This may be more of a health comment, but I was told years ago that if you are sick with the cold or flu that you may be reintroducing and prolonging your illness by simply brushing your teeth each day with a now germ-filled toothbrush. Is this true and what is your advice?
So someone on a plane from Munich has flu-like symtoms and the plane makes an emergency landing in Boston. Is VP Joe Biden crazy or are the airlines? Better yet how do you think all the other passengers on that plane felt? What about the parents flying with their children that are sitting 3 rows away? I think someone owes Mr Biden an appology.
Sneeze or cough into your into your elbow. Covering your mouth merely spreads the germs to anything contacted afterwards.
Airplanes are germy? Of course they are germy. Unless you autoclave or fumigate the entire interior of the plane between flights there will be lots and lots of germs everywhere...just like any other public place. The controversy comes from whether the cabin air is re-circulated without being filtered by a hepa-filter or other germ killing/filtering device. I do not know if it is or not. I suspect not though or we would have been reassured of such. What I do know is that I really don't want to be on a plane right now with even one person who has "flu-like symptoms" even if I was wearing an N-95 mask. Who out there does? I work in healthcare and will be on the front lines if the time comes, with full personal protective equipment, I do it all the time now anyway, but I will not unnecessarily put myself in harm’s way. The only way to safely avoid this situation is to not fly for awhile or charter your own plane.
Getting the information out about H1N1 is important. But over focusing on it does more harm than good. I hope more people become information savvy – learning how to digest/recognize media trends. Thinking now about SARS I wonder how many cases are out there now and how it has (or hasn't spread) since it was such a big story.
I fly quite often also, but not since H1N1 outbreak. I shall be doing so today and again next Wednesday (May 6). Let us not overact, but do all that we need to do to be safe. I will share my experience when i arrive at my destination.
The airlines did not like what VP Biden said. Biden was right. Airlines could do some introspection. If they were good at business, airlines would act in their own self interest and also in the public interest. Issue a face mask to every passenger. How about some clear headed thinking instead of waiting for the government to do it for them. I would not be surprised if they joined the queue for some bailout cash if they are affected by the flu pandemic.
I am of the opinion that if we get H1N1 ( I refuse to call it swine flu) then we get it. 40,000 people across North America die of influenza yearly, and that is the flu that we are vaccinated for. Yes this flu is spreading rapidly, and further afield. But in the end it is the flu. You cannot get it from eating pork and I wish the media would use the scientific term for it instead of the other term. I wash my hands, sneeze and cough into my sleeves and so do my children. If we come into contact with it and get it I will treat it as I did Influenza B just recently when my 8 yr old had it. She could have died just as easily from that strain as from this strain. She didnt thank goodness, and is now healthy again. 2 children in Michigan died from Influenza B and why did the media not cover it? One child has died in the US and none in Canada and its all I hear or read. The child in the US was from Mexico and was being treated in Houston when he died. The panic button has been pushed prematurely in my opinion and I realize that my opinion is only one of hundreds of thousands perhaps millions of people. If the proper precautions are taken this should die out soon and something else will eventually take its place alarming the world once again.
I think your blog helps remind us to not panic. It's ok to promote hygiene and good manners when it comes to sneezing and coughing. But good grief, people all over the world are going crazy - buying up all the blue masks and hand sanitzers, accusing other nationalities of being responsible and killing pigs! Let's step back for a moment and consider the best (and most intelligent) course of action to take.
Planes have always been a hot bed for getting sick. Almost every time I fly I end up with a cold. Something happens in hotels, and any other confined area.
I used to help run Anime Conventions (and this applies to more then just anime based) but people used to get what is often called Con Plauge. Someone shows up with a cold, and it gets spread around just because you are near them.
I'm still not worried, and I live in Chicago with in a few blocks of one of the schools that has been shut down, and come in contact with people who have recently been to Mexico on a fairly regular basis.
Oh, congratulations on your achievement award!
I have an idea – instead of three hours of coverage of the flu how about some real news? Then you will stop freaking everyone else out and quite possibly assuage your own misplaced paranoia.
I am so sick (pun intended) and tired of CNN's non stop coverage of what is, at this point, a non story. All the news outlets are doing is playing into the short attention span of the average viewer with fear mongering tactics to get them to stay tuned. When there are 50 kids in the high school sick with mononucleosis they don't close the school, even though statistically one of them will carry long term immune system damage from it.
I'm the last person who's going to sympathize with your self induced panic attack. Y'all need to get over it.
Well from my understanding this H1N1 virus lack the DNA amino acid sequence that causes for the virus to divide rapidly and therefore increase in concentration and be very pathogenic. Hence, this H1N1 virus would appear to be less dangerous than the SARS virus you mention.
First of all, congratulations on your award. That is great. I enjoy your coverage so much. I don't care what anyone says, planes are germy. The air may circulate when the plane takes off and is in the air, but it sure doesn't feel like circulation when you are waiting in line or waiting for the remainder of the people to board or unload. I work in the healthcare profession and we are not panicking, but we are being smart. Wash your hands, protect yourself from others coughing and sneezing as much as possible and pray if you do get H1N1 it won't be as serious as some. Again I love your coverage of the news. Thanks!
Don Lemon that was excellent. I enjoyed reading your blog. I know how you feel about people coughing and sneezing and not washing their hands. Ugh! It makes my skin crawl. The Health Department has been saying this for years, "Wash your hands, Wash your hands, Wash your hands" I hope people really get it and wash their hands.
Congratulations on your award!
hey don. ya know, what you're feeling is normal. i know you are a news anchor & have a responsibility to the public but you are absolutely right about what you are feeling in your situation. i would be thinking the same things & it is human nature to put stigmas on vertain groups when things happen. some people might not "like" it but it is just the way it is. one thing: when you are in a confined space such as a plane it wouldn't make a world of difference if those sneezers & coughers covered their mouth it is all recycled air so the germs will be circulated. flying is one thing i myself would not do right now but since this is for your work (BTW: aren't cnn officials also concerned & concerned for thei employees?? another blog) you would have to take certain measures. i'm sure you know them; wash hands, cover mouth when coughing, cover nose when sneezing (sneeze in to your sleeve), and keep purell with you at all times, don't hug & kiss people hello right now, try to keep a little distance between you & others when talking (that's what i am doing)... and they sell this stuff you can buy otc that you put on the outside of your nose-they use it for allergies-it acts as a liquid bandaid which keeps impurities out. k, stay safe. try not to panic as hard as that sounds. i'll keep you in my prayers. btw: we miss ya in philly!!
Don, I am a Registered Nurse. I am telling you planes are filled with germs. I was on my way back from Brookly New York on Sunday. I experienced the same anxieties as you. I should know better. Especially in the winter months when i am travelling. I take zinc, 500mg of Vitamin C, and 600mg of Ibuprofen prior to my flight. To fight off all the germs in the plane. Thus far it has worked for me. It can also be mind over matter. I do believe that most of this is overblown.
It would be really nice if you focused on the economics of Obama's plans rather than fawning over his wife's dresses or hairstyles. Get back to hard news rather than the fluff pieces.
on a lighter note: bring back paris hilton or brittany in the news-people will surely forget H1N1. lol.
You were flu profiling. LOL!! Looking forward to whatever you guys cover in the Newsroom this weekend.
Hey Don Lemon,
I love your show. Can you please find a way to slow down the pace of the segments though. I'm sure your guests feel as rushed as I do when segments end abruptly just to go to another segment (not even a commercial). Your channel broadcasts 24 hours a day, there is no reason to rush through any segment. Except the ones where all the talking heads are talking at the same time and we can't understand any of them.
I'd like to see coverage on the separation of church and state. This was such a great issue in the past and now the overtly faithful want religion to influence every decision politicians make.
Keep up the great work!
Airplanes!...What about shopping carts at grocery stores and at Walmart....
Oh man Don,
Sorry to hear how you had tough time covering SARS in Toronto and sorry for your expensive microphone and the cable you had to leave to the couple you interviewed.
I remember that many of torontonians were hysteric and under panic. Even wearing the mask didn't help much and make people feel safe. Riding the Toronto subway at rush hour was a go-to-war undertaking!
While alert, I am one of few guys out here who remained calm and never used any kind of mask. This is what I am doing right now. As of today, we have 35 cases officially declared in Canada.
BTW what the "But I did not have children" have to do??
Going to wash my hands!
People regularly wore face masks in Taipei, even before the SARS epidemic hit. It is an effective way to avoid sickness. After I returned, I wore a mask to work because I had a cold and didn't want to share it with my co-workers. Some were actually put-off, and of course, I answered questions all day.
If vanity were less important to us, we'd all be healthier.
Don, I enjoy your shows and commentary very much. However, please think twice before referring to your audience at large as "guys" as you did on Twitter. Besides being a diminutive, it's rather disrespectful to refer to everyone, even women, this way. Although the younger generation seems used to this casualness, not everyone is comfortable with the constant use of "guys" or "you guys," which seems to be the northern "you all." At least "you all" is inclusive. Guys are guys–not women or girls unless the dictionary has changed, (which it probably will)! When you and others use this, I don't feel included.
" I heard every cough, every sniffle, every sneeze. “Don’t you people cover your mouths?” I kept thinking to myself ..."
YES!!! I thought I was the only one– or being overly paranoid 🙂
I happened to be driving airport shuttle vans (think SuperShuttle except a different company) during the SARS outbreak. I really didn't worry about it much until an Asian gentleman sat directly behind me and coughed copiously the entire trip.
I dropped him off first. I never got sick.
Ok, so now I'm paranoid. I work with people, being a publicist and all, and I'm afraid to shake hands......hummmmm. How about I give some "dap" or "hit the rock". Perhaps a closed hand is a safer hand.....feeling like Tigger...think think think.
Amen. Life is for the living. I'm glad you had a sensible grandma. Washing your hands is sensible too. After that, just live.
Don – Congratulations on your award. I keep wondering about the high schoolstudents in the Ft.Worth district who are out for a week. What about their AP exams (slated to start Monday) and graduation, plus other things, like the prom?
I fly to Texas this month and I"m wondering about the confined area but I'm still gonna go
Don, you asked that we make suggestions, how about you interview citizens who have been displaced in the workplace by illegal aliens. You know, the citizens CNN has been ignoring for a decade now, pretending they don't exist, claiming that they don't really want the jobs they've been working at to support themselves. The ones you pretend haven't been living in tent cities for months now, because without those jobs you don't want them to have, they can't afford to keep a roof over their heads, feed their children. The citizens whose civil rights you stomp on each and every day.
Why not actually report in the public interest, be a REAL journalist and report on the citizens who are suffering because of government and media corruption?
Report on Sen Diane Feinstein, who has just violated senate ethics rules, by using her position to divert TARP funds to a contract for her husband. She's done it before, last year she had to step down as a committee chair, because she'd funneled Iraq war contracts to him. When I was growing up, the media would have reported on these and so many other issues.
Bernie Shaw would have reported on these facts, why don't you, Don?
Great perspective! We can't live in fear. Just like your Grandmother said Life is for the living. I pray God's protection and that this virus will stop in its tracks!
Thanks for sharing Don... I really hope people understand that they say to cover mouth when coughing or sneezing it doesn't mean with bare hands!! it should be with some sort of tissue.. Hand would only collect germs and spread them on everything those hands come in contact with before they are washed.. yuk! Be careful people, don't cover your mouth or nose with bare hands! it's not gonna help!
I just wish the HIV virus got this kind of coverage from the media, perhaps only then, will people truly learn to protect themselves. Good job Don, love your coverage.
Swine flu should not even be a story. When 5,000 are in the hospital it becomes a story. The 36,000 that die from the flu of the year is not a story nor the millions that refuse to get a flu shot.
Thank you for sharing. As an urban school district teacher, I work in a highly "germy" area. I'm not as afraid to contact the Swine Flu virus as many are; however, it provides me an opportunity to teach my third graders how to sneeze properly, wash their hands, etc. I do worry, that Educational State Departments are not expressing enough concern about the Swine Flu considering how highly "germy" classrooms and school buildings are because children, staff, and faculty come to school sick everyday.
Your Grandma was a wise woman.
Thanks for sharing your story. It is very common to have those concerns when it comes to your well being especially when the actions or lack thereof of others can affect you. I'm scheduled to travel to Texas soon and I'm having some similar concerns about my travels when the location of the initial outbreak is extremely close to where I'll be. I can only do my part to ensure that I am protecting myself and others and will only hope that others are just as considerate.
you need to check this guy out on youtube.. i think you should contact him and get him on cnn....http://www.youtube.com/nuvsion .....he's the next truth from africa.
Hey Don: I know the Swine flu thing is scary and stressful and there is the need for caution and prevention but think about this – stress breaks the immune system down after a certain level and continued release of stress hormones! I think a part of the prevention is to slow down, relax and refocus. Give our immune systems a chance to regroup and rebuild!
Mr. Lemon, since day 1 that I saw you in action at CNN... I thought... "Don is on to a unique journey". Congratulations, you got my attention. I can't wait to hear you on the radio. Your humble approach is what resonates with your audience, maintain that. I have an idea that could help many out there, it is something that I can not do my self alone. I need your cooperation. Nothing like ... "Let's do it"... together. My idea evolves about credibility of people looking for work. Imaging each person having their own domain name web site to distribute their resumes, this is only 1 application to the equation. I will withhold from displaying any links in this comment. But, if you are interested I can explain in a separate e-mail. Send me a short note and I will extend the information. Thanks.
I am in Jamaica and I have to come to the U.S soon and I am scared! You just never know who you are coming in contact with in such an enclosed environment.
You guys are great – you have to do the risky assignments! Good job.
Congrats on your Award. I understand your fear regarding the H1N1. I am a nurse. I am faced with contagious diseases daily. I am constantly washing my hands. They tend to get irritated from constant washing. This is the best defense for combating diseases! Saying a prayer also help! Stay Positive.
You won't pick it up on a plane. Just take Zicam at the first sign of a scratchy throat and you'll get no more colds either! I haven't had one in over 5 years. Or as Joe Biden put it recently: "you get a bathyscaphe and go under the Artic Ocean, but do it now because in a couple of years it may melt... but that's OK 'cause the swine flu will be over then". Thank you, Joe!
I agree with you Don! Fear of the unknown or new disease only creates panic, and no one listens to good advice. The advice is and always have been to wash your hands and cover your mouth.
Congrats on your award!!! By the way you are a GREAT anchor and writer. You paint me a picture with your writing and voice. Please keep doing what you do best >educating the world with news. You are an asset to CNN and the world. Have you ever thought of writing a book?
Honestly I don't think people are that worried about it. At least not that I've seen, where I am located. People are going on with their daily lives. A lot of people have that "it's not going to happen to me" mentality, so they don't really care. I think I hear more jokes about this flu than actual concern.
Congrats on the award. It's good to see that you journalists are human too. I know objectivity is paramount in your profession but it's fun to see that you have a normal initial reaction to scary events just like we do; even though you have more info than most of us 🙂 Keep up the good work.
Vice President Biden is correct for warning us against being in confined spaces like airplanes and classrooms. Why should he be maligned for good advice. As a teacher of 22 years, I remember catching colds and flu from my students all the time because I was stuck in an enclosed classroom. I would often open the windows in the wintertime just to exchange the germy air. Now that I've been retired for the past 3 years, I haven't caught any colds or flu. Classrooms are breeding grounds for germs and so are airplanes! I'm with Joe Biden and the airline industry and the Whitehouse owes him an apology!!!
I went to Brooklyn College too! Had no idea it was your alma mater... congrats on the award Don, it's very well deserved!
So much of what I hear about air travel and illness is remarkably inaccurate. Your expert Mr. Dow, is misinformed to say the least. Only one U.S. carrier has HEPA filters on some of their airplanes, the rest do not. Air is taken in from inlets in the front of the aircraft, and while it does circulate in a circular side-to-side manner, it also simultaneously flows front-to-back. The air filters are rarely cleaned. I fly international only. On every flight I have ever worked (23 yrs), I have had at least one person who was very ill and should never have gotten on the plane. We have always refused passage to anyone who shows signs of an OBVIOUS infectious illness. Most people hide this until we are airborne. The biggest problem, not just in the US, but worldwide is HABITUAL POOR HYGEINE AND SANITATION. This is why so many people get sick "when they fly". Only half of our passengers can be bothered to wash their hands after using the bathroom (yes, we can tell), Many go into the lavatory with bare feet or in socks, and then track numerous bodily fluids all over the plane and follow this by standing on the seats. I won't go into the more disgusting behaviors. If people in this country and world-wide simply practiced good basic hygeine, I truly believe contagious illness would be cut in half.
On your Alumni Distinguished Acheivement Award.
Your report of the Dallas Cowboy Training Facility was incredible. Also your piece on Outrage, the DC gay undergroud is an intersteing sorry.
Just keep doing your job...God's got you covered. He would not have opened the door that has made you an International(italics) icon, if he did not think you could handle it. Just know that his hedge of protection is around you at all times. Do you have any idea how many germs you are exposed to just by going in the vicinity of an airport? Do what you do best DL!!!
My daughter is getting married in Porta Rico this May. I will leave from Little Rock with a layover in Atlanta Ga. going and coming back. I am not going to worry about someone coughing and etc. But, I will take every precaution to keep myself safe from the flu. As each of us that fly should.
N95 mask, sanitizer hand wipes, hand sanitizer, disposal gloves even a pair of safety goggles. Complaining about bad air and sick people on the plane, won't help. So protect yourself even if you look like you are from out of space. THE KEY IS PROTECT YOURSELF. If we all did just that there would be nothing to fear
Just wash your hands and keep your face mask handy at every turn in case you got some nasty a** that don't cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze too. I hate that!! Oh, don't forget the Clorox wipes, they're good at eliminatin' germs.
The point of this is what....you received an award and you were nervous.
Do me a favor...as a reporter....will you find what cities and counties in this country have swine flu....not just the state numbers...the breakdown per state...exactly where.
I live Texas ...with children in California...I called the Houston County Health offices...4 numbers...referred to Immigration...then referred to Homeland Security...then referred to the CDC...who wanted to refer me to World Health Organization. Govt. at work. There is no public list of cities and counties....try getting please and put it on your website. That would be worth reading.
Congratulations on your award!!!!!!! Keep up the good work.
I was worrying about u when I first readed your blog. but I glad you relaxed and got to your alma mater safe. Congratulations!!!!
And I glad your Grandmother came to your mine because I know you were close to your grandmother, because like mine use to tell me "Baby, Grandma will never tell you a lie or anything that will hurt you" Keep up the Good Work!!!!!!
Pot may add revenue to our ailing economy, however has anyone looked at the amount of accidents crimes and enviromental draw backs that this will cause. Do we not have enough problems with DUI. Have our law makers lost their mind.
Fantastic and interesting forum will look through more a little later, i drive a taxi in Portugal so if anyone from this forum comes on holiday to the Algarve Portugal, come and have a coffee with me, and i can also let you know lots of history from the area...