Bring it (Ebola) on… Over

Editorial

 

 

illness times; font-size: 12pt;”>By Phil Erwin

In a September 7 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” President Obama made clear that the outbreak of Ebola in Africa is a threat to the nation, saying: “…I said this two months ago to our national security team–we have to make this a national security priority.” [My emphasis]

On September 26, at a Global Health Security Agenda meeting held at the White House, Obama reiterated: “I’ve told my team that fighting this epidemic is a national security priority…”, and “…outbreaks anywhere,… even in the most remote corners of the world, have the potential to impact everybody, every nation.” He further exhorted nations to “start thinking about biological threats as the security threats that they are…”.

(Read his speech HERE)

Many nations in Africa, apparently in agreement, have banned travel from the infected areas. Why not us?

What do Africans know that Mr. Obama does not?

Let’s make this discussion more personal: Some years back, I got on a plane one Wednesday afternoon and flew north for fifty minutes to attend my family’s Thanksgiving celebration. I felt fine boarding the plane, but during the flight a peculiar “buzzing” sensation in my throat signaled impending illness. It was strep throat, and while I had no obvious symptoms until late that night, it kept me in bed, miserable, while the family ate turkey the next day.

Now, suppose that was the final minutes of a flight from Africa to anywhere.  Suppose I didn’t know what that “buzzing” sensation meant. Suppose I was not paying attention to the news, and didn’t know that sore throat and sniffles might signal bad trouble; or that I was too committed to important business meetings to pay attention to illness; or that I had paid hundreds of dollars to attend an important seminar, and just couldn’t miss it; or that I was so afraid to admit I might actually be deathly ill, I went into denial and went out on the town to get drunk.

There is nothing whatever in such suppositions beyond the realm of possibility. Indeed, given that millions of people may eventually be exposed, it is likely that those suppositions will become realities.

I wonder how those people on United flight 998 felt watching a hazmat-garbed CDC crew drag a sick man off the plane as they stood by wondering what he had touched that they had, too.

No, he doesn’t have Ebola. What about the next one?

How can we stop Ebola from becoming a global epidemic?

Well, there are many things we can do. Most of them are already being done. But the one thing that we cannot do, because we do not have the power, is simple: Ban travelers from impacted regions from entering the United States.

We can’t do that. But President Obama can.

Why hasn’t he?

Why didn’t he do that on Sept. 26th? Why not exhort the nations of the world to do likewise? With all the measures he announced that he was taking, sending money and military – he failed to do the one thing that would immediately and very dramatically reduce the probability of Ebola spreading to the U.S.

If he had announced such a ban on Sept. 16th, when he stated publicly that the chance of Ebola reaching the U.S. was “extremely low,” then the man who carried Ebola to Dallas just four days later would have been stopped, either in Africa or in Belgium. And those 50-100 people whom the CDC identified as potentially affected, and possibly infected, would never have been exposed. Obama’s failing to enact a travel ban at the time when it was an obvious and invaluable precaution resulted in Ebola reaching the U.S. (Within four days!)

Low risk, indeed.

Much is being made of the fact that this man apparently lied about his exposure on a pre-flight questionnaire. As if questionnaires can contain a deadly disease. I remind you: I once came down with serious illness while on a plane, not before boarding. Will everyone who has been exposed actually know they have been exposed? And that canard about “they’re not contagious if they have no symptoms”  Since when did that first cough, or sneeze, alert you that you were really sick? On a 30-hour flight from West Africa to New York, how many people sneeze at least once?

Low risk, indeed.

The objection to a travel ban is that it “restricts the flow of aid to the affected areas.” How does a ban on travel from a place restrict aid to that place? A ban on commercial flights would have no impact, and all aid to such dangerous areas should be supervised, if not outright controlled, by governments. I’m not worried about CDC flights returning from Liberia; I’m worried about ABuckApiece Airlines.

Obama’s “national security risk” is here now, and perhaps didn’t have to be. Of all the 300 million Americans who might be impacted by Ebola, only one of us had the power to prevent, or at least forestall, its arrival in this country.

And all those who may be impacted, even to the point of death, now know whom to thank for taking that ”extremely low” risk on their behalf.

And so, Mr. President: If, as you intoned in your speech on Sept. 26, “because of lack of preparedness and planning and global coordination, people are dying when they don’t have to,” you know precisely whom to blame.

We all do.

Phil Erwin is an author and IT administrator living in Newbury Park. He knows enough science to be able to discern whether science is informing our judgements, or whether it is pure politics ruling the day.

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