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Shutdown affected us in ways unseen

By Don Babwin

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 18 2013 8:00 a.m. MDT

Getting around was largely unaffected. Air traffic controllers were on the job, flights still taking off. Trains operated by local agencies delivered millions of commuters to their jobs.

But if something went wrong, such as the mysterious case of a Chicago "ghost train," people were left in the dark.

On the last day of September, an empty Chicago Transit Authority train somehow rumbled down the tracks and crashed into another train, injuring a few dozen passengers. The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched investigators, and they kept working when the shutdown started the next day because they were "essential." But the agency furloughed others whose job is to explain to the public what happened.

So millions of commuters used the transit lines without knowing more about what caused the crash.

The CDC slashed staffing at quarantine stations at 20 airports and entry points, raising chances travelers could enter the country carrying diseases like measles undetected.

In the first week of the shutdown, the number of illnesses detected dropped by 50 percent, CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said. "Are people suddenly a lot healthier?" she wondered.

STUDY TIME

Children learned the meaning of shutdown when they got home and booted up computers to do homework. From the U.S. Census bureau site to NASA maps, they were greeted by alerts that said government sites were down "due to the shutdown."

Linda Koplin, a math teacher in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, asked her sixth-grade pupils to use a reliable online source to find the highest and lowest elevations.

"They were able to find all the elevations for the rest of the continents but they couldn't find information for their continent," Koplin said.

It was the same at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., where social studies teacher Robin Forrest said government statistics are more important because of so much dubious information on the web.

"We try to steer our kids toward websites and databases that are legitimate, the same way we would college students," he said.

NIGHT, NIGHT

After hours is when the shutdown arrived at many people's homes.

Monique Howard's 5-year-old son, Carter, has the most trouble with his asthma at night, when his breathing is labored. Her family dreams of a cure, the kind doctors are hunting through federally funded research grants at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

During the shutdown, the doctors had to stop submitting grant applications to study childhood asthma and other diseases and disorders. Hospital officials said the shutdown could have delayed funding for nearly half a year.

"I have met some of these doctors who are close to breakthroughs, and if this sets us back five or six months, it just seems to me like a lot of these studies are going to be scrapped or they will have to restart them," Howard said. "It's just so frustrating as a parent."

There was a comedic effect, too. The shutdown might have saved raunchy entertainers from punishment for obscene or offensive language on late-night TV and radio.

The Federal Communications Commission investigates broadcast misbehavior only if viewers or listeners complain. During the shutdown, callers heard a voice with a familiar ring: "The FCC is closed."

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