Diverse North Auburn neighborhood, diverse views on swine flu

Auburn Greens residents reflect growing recognition of influenza threat. Click on images for more comments
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Walk through the Auburn Greens neighborhood in North Auburn and you’re liable to hear people greeting each other in both Spanish and English. A neatly landscaped community of fourplexes off Highway 49, The Greens is perhaps the Auburn area’s most diverse residential area. And unlike rural acreage, residents are living close to their neighbors – and able to hear someone coughing nearby or a baby’s cry. At the Auburn Greens, you’ll find varied levels of concern over the growing threat of swine flu reaching them. In Spanish, it’s called “la gripe porcina.” “Life’s going to go on,” Jesse Huizar said, as he prepared for a child’s birthday party Wednesday. Workers from the business that had just delivered a bounce house onto the lawn had sanitized the plastic surface before departing. Huizar said he was happy about that. Huizar admitted that he had second thoughts about the party as word began to spread about swine flu becoming a concern in the U.S. One friend decided to keep her daughter at home after she came down with some flu symptoms. Huizar said he was thankful about that. Shopping at Safeway on Wednesday, Huizar said he saw a couple of people with protective medical masks on as they strolled the aisles. “It’s kind of alarming a little bit,” Huizar said. Just the sound of someone coughing or sneezing is enough to jar Haydee Lopez’s calm exterior. “If they’re sneezing I wonder if they’re sick. If they say it’s allergies, I wonder ‘Are you sure?’” Lopez said. In the stores, hand wipes are available but Lopez wonders if they’re effective. “You wonder about wearing a mask and rubber gloves but that would make you look weird,” Lopez said. Stephanie Bantau, 22, said she’s especially concerned about her newborn son, Hayden, who was born March 31. Bantau said that she’ll go out to shop but leave Hayden with his grandmother rather than risk the possibility of illness at a time when he’s still too young to be inoculated. “He’s too tiny to catch anything like that,” Bantau said. “He doesn’t have the immune system. So only me, his grandma and dad are normally allowed around him.” Even getting change at the store is a concern these days for Bantau. “I’ve been noticing cashiers are wearing gloves and I’m thinking that’s not a bad thing,” she said. Many Auburn Greens residents have close family ties to Mexico, where swine flu is believed to have originated. Mexican officials said Wednesday that 159 deaths are connected to the outbreak in that nation. Kassie Semona said she’s been watching the news from Mexico with extra interest. Her boyfriend’s family lives there. “He’s been calling back and was relieved to find out his mom hasn’t caught it,” Semona said. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been questioned on whether the U.S.-Mexico border should be closed temporarily to help slow the spread of the flu. Napolitano said Wednesday closure “wasn’t merited by facts.” Kelly Beattie said she’s in favor of stopping travel in both directions until it’s over. She’d also like to see airlines reimbursing customers for the postponed flights or providing vouchers for future trips to travelers who want to get out of pre-purchased trips to and from Mexico. “My friend had plans to travel to Cancun and is now trying to get reimbursed,” Beattie said. Beattie said she’s being a little cautious but wonders how much information is being held back. “The government always knows more than it’s willing to let on,” she said. “They don’t want to cause a panic.” ------------------------------------------------- The Journal’s Gus Thomson asked North Auburn residents in the Auburn Greens what impact the threat of the swine flu virus is having on them. Christian Alexandro, 12, North Auburn “I’m not concerned but if it gets really bad I will be. It’s not like a lot of people have it. But I will stay away from people who have it because I don’t want to get it.” Jesse Huizar, 26, North Auburn “I’m more concerned about the kids. I already make sure things are clean but I’m sanitizing things more. I’m also paying attention as the numbers (of cases) go up.” Kassie Semona, 26, North Auburn “I’m washing my hands more and have been watching my 6-month-old daughter more. She’s got a runny nose. Other than that, I’m not doing anything differently.” Christine Geiger, 45, Auburn “I’m taking it seriously and so are my husband and 17-year-old daughter. We’re washing our hands more. So far, so good. The schools haven’t got it. Dave Geiger, 49, North Auburn “I’ve been coughing and have a runny nose but there’s no fever. I’m not wound up about it. There are a lot of Spanish people who live here and there could be some travel between here and Mexico but I’m not worried about it.” Haydee Lopez, 42, North Auburn “It’s a little scary, not knowing all the precautions I should take. We constantly wash our hands for something that could easily spread throughout our neighborhood or the city.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at