From Italy, Obama Calls into Swine Flu Summit

"Buongiorno," said the familiar voice on the phone.

From the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy, it was President Obama calling into a Flu Preparedness Summit at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

Mr. Obama wanted to be on the record stressing the importance that governments at all levels have a plan in place in case the there's an outbreak in the fall of the illness initially referred to as Swine Flu, but now called H1N1.

"I think it's clear that although we were fortunate not to see a more serious situation in the spring when we first got news of this outbreak, that the potential for a significant outbreak in the fall is looming," warned the president from over 4500 miles away.

He said his administration wants to "make sure that we are not promoting panic, but we are promoting vigilance and preparation."

In his audience at NIH were his top Cabinet officials on public health and safety including his secretaries of health and human services, homeland security and education.

But Mr. Obama's message was directed principally at the state and local officials at the flu summit.

He said a review of past flu outbreaks showed that when the response is properly handled, "state and local officials have complete ownership over this issue." He said they provide "good ideas to the federal government" and are "critical links to inform us what's working and what's not."

He said he was grateful that officials at all levels of government were taking the flu threat seriously.

"We may end up averting a crisis. That's our hope."

The president said he wants a "thoughtful, systematic" program in place that's "based on the best science possible" so that if a serious outbreak of H1N1 occurs, "we can mitigate the damage and protect our neighbors and our friends and coworkers."

And he urged state and local officials to speak up if they think the federal government is screwing up, though he didn't use those words.

"If there are any issues at all that you think we have not raised, any T's we have not crossed, or I's that we have not dotted that affects either our general approach or your specific community, please let us know."

Mr. Obama said his administration doesn't want to find out "after the fact," that there were some things that could have done better."

The Supplemental Appropriations Bill he signed into law last month provided nearly $8-billion for H1N1 preparedness programs.

On a lighter note, Mr. Obama kidded Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, telling her that everyone in Italy was asking for her, including President Giorgio Napolitano.

Molto divertente. Very funny.

More on the Summit

White House Puts States On Swine Flu Alert

Swine Flu Shots May Be Ready in October

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here:
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.