By ANNE MEREDITH
Recently, U.S. politicians and commentators have been trying hard to prevent people from panicking in the wake of the U.S. ebola scare. While some fear-induced reactions to the ebola threat are a bit overblown, down-playing the threat of ebola is in some ways more dangerous than public hysteria over the disease.
I do not agree with the Bologna commentator who recently suggested that being worried about the disease’s advance is not a sane reaction. We need to be more worried about ebola than we are, and actions like those recently taken by Governor Chris Christie requiring mandatory quarantines for people coming from West Africa are the least that’s required. Why? Because the government and the CDC, in their haste to calm Americans down and prove that there is really nothing to be worried about, have proven just the opposite. The best way to avoid fear and panic would have been to take action against the disease in Africa early on and take steps to keep it from coming to the United States in the first place. Unfortunately, it’s too late for that now.
Closing our airports to people from West African countries does not necessarily mean cutting off humanitarian aid to those countries, as some have suggested. Why doesn’t the government use some of the money it would save not having to treat, track, and clean up after imported cases to arrange special humanitarian flights to the affected countries? Furthermore, President Obama needs to understand that keeping travelers from infected countries out of the United States is not going to affect his attempts at immigration reform. Once the outbreak is over, we will let West Africans back in. A mandatory, country-wide 21 day quarantine makes sense, since people with potential exposure to the virus have already proven several times that they cannot be trusted to police their own movements.
Keeping ebola patients out of the country also makes sense because, despite initial government claims to the contrary, American hospitals are unprepared to treat ebola. One nurse I know told me recently that her hospital has yet to acquire the necessary protective equipment. What’s more, individual nurses who want to protect themselves are not permitted to order such gear on their own. Her hospital claims to be in the process of acquiring the gear, but they have been claiming that for months. If unprepared hospitals like hers are faced with an influx of ebola patients, or even just one or two, the chances that ebola could spread to health care workers in the same way it did in Dallas are still high. Although fear and panic are not so good, if they are what is required to motivate leaders to take action to keep the public safe, then I say bring on the fear and panic.