Diane Dimond: A modern-day Pandora’s box: Ebola
By Diane Dimond
We have got to get smarter about controlling the ever-widening Ebola epidemic — and quickly. Ebola is not just a problem for the hotspots of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. And the Department of Homeland Security’s new system of simply questioning and taking the temperature of incoming air travelers from West Africa isn’t enough to control this potential pandemic.
Naming a new presidentially appointed czar to coordinate an ill-conceived response won’t cut it either.
This is a modern-day Pandora’s box with deadly, worldwide consequences, and our government’s response via the Centers of Disease Control has been pitiful.
At this writing, there are two known cases of American nurses contracting Ebola from a Liberian patient who traveled to the U.S. in late September and died in a Dallas hospital Oct. 8.
Thomas Duncan did not know he was infected when he flew here. The hospital didn’t suspect it either and initially released him with a temperature of 103. By the time he returned two days later, Duncan, 45, had potentially exposed dozens of people who were then placed in a 21-day quarantine.
As wildly impossible as it seems, however, the CDC never specifically told any of the 75 Texas Health Presbyterian hospital workers who had contact with Duncan that they should restrict their movements. It took eight days before the CDC had staffers sign a pledge to stay away from public places and mass transit.
Too late. One nurse flew to Ohio to visit relatives and plan her wedding. Sometime during her trip she fell ill with a low-grade fever, called the CDC for guidance, was told she didn’t fall into the “high risk category” and was allowed to fly home to Dallas. She had Ebola. And now fellow passengers, relatives and others she visited are on an anxious Ebola watch.
A lab worker from Duncan’s team went on a cruise and ultimately self-quarantined herself in her cabin when she realized the risk.
Our nation’s response to the Ebola outbreak has been pitifully lacking focus and coordination. This does not inspire confidence.
How contagious is Ebola? The World Health Organization now predicts West Africa could soon see 10,000 new cases every week. The percentage of infected people who could find their way to the U.S. keeps increasing, and experts say more cases are surely on the horizon.
The new screening protocols at the five U.S. airports through which most (but not all) West African travelers enter are of questionable value. By the time a foreign traveler makes it off the plane and into the customs area, his or her fellow passengers who might have been exposed are long gone.
And a cleanup crew is already on the plane getting it ready for quick turnaround. They could become infected while picking up used paper cups and tissues stuffed in seat flaps. And not to be too dramatic about it, but an infected crewmember could unknowingly exchange deadly bodily fluids by simply kissing a loved one. They could cough or sneeze inside another plane — potentially spreading the infection further.
And think about this: As the Ebola threat looms, so does the traditional flu season with symptoms much like, you guessed it, Ebola.
Before public panic sets in and emergency rooms fill up with frantic patients, we need to cut off all air travel from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. We need to flag the passports of citizens from those countries and deny them entry for a period of time. I know this idea has already been dismissed by Washington, but it shouldn’t have been.
Our best bet is to concentrate on isolating the virus where it was born so it can die there. That is the most logical way to fight an epidemic.
Still, some insist we can’t do that. Critics of a travel ban say it could harm the economies of those African countries, as if the outbreak hasn’t already done that. They say a ban would restrict relief workers and medical supplies from getting into the Ebola Zone.
Nonsense. Anyone who wanted to go help could still go via charter jets or military transports. Their return might be delayed by a quarantine for 21 days, but tightly controlled exceptions could be made if they actually contracted Ebola. They could be transported home for treatment much the same as several Americans who contracted the disease were.
More than 4,000 lives have been lost so far in what is the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. This is not a time for discussion about America’s traditionally open borders. It is time to slam the lid tight on this plague.
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