We’re all going to die! Today! Or at least that is what one would think from listening to the “three P’s” — pundits, politicians, and personalities — talk about Ebola. Although the danger must be taken seriously, it is not an imminent threat to the United States. Unfortunately, public figures have jumped on it as a tool to gain political advantage in some closely contested political campaigns.
I would expect the pundits and personalities to use any excuse to keep their name in front of the public, but I find it disappointing at best that politicians would use it for personal gain. Whatever it takes, I suppose. In my mind, however, this would seem to be an issue that should be bipartisan, or better yet non-partisan, as all Americans are concerned about the safety and well-being of our country.
While Congress certainly has oversight responsibilities and should utilize that power, it should be used for the common good and not to score political points. Just like me, they may have their opinions but they do not have experience with this particular disease nor do they have any medical expertise. They do, however, have the power to stir up the American public and to spread fear where none is warranted. Caution is warranted certainly, but not fear. Unfortunately, fear ran rampant in the early days following the discovery of the disease in Dallas.
Perhaps the most over-used phrase in our current lexicon is “in an abundance of caution.” In my day, it was called CYA — cover your “behind.” That is, taking an action that you know is not necessary but is done anyway so that no one can say you did not take action. My favorite in this case is the school district in Oklahoma that kept students and faculty out of school because some had been on the same cruise ship as a lab technician that worked on the case of the Liberian man who died. She had already been tested and found to be Ebola free when the school district made the decision “in an abundance of caution.” There is caution and there is also common sense.
Again, I am no expert, but the debate over whether to prohibit travelers from Africa to enter the United States seems to be a little over blown as well. While I cannot argue that it would do no good, it also seems to me that since there are no direct flights at present from the impacted area of Africa to the United States, to be effective, we would have to isolate the United States from all incoming travelers. I might also point out that for twenty-two years the United States would not issue visas and banned all travel into the country if a person had HIV/AIDS. The ban was lifted in 2010. To my knowledge, we did not eradicate HIV/AIDS by having the ban and there has been no dramatic increase in cases since the ban was lifted. With Ebola, once you have it you cannot get re-infected and are no longer contagious, a different case than HIV/AIDS.
What we have learned is that when the experts say you have to do everything perfectly while treating an Ebola patient, they mean perfectly. Not “good enough.” As the saying goes, it’s only a lot of work if you do it. I suspect that around the country health care professionals have dramatically increased their training and awareness. Things in the theoretical seem to have new importance when they move to reality. Merely reading about guidelines is not the same as actually practicing them — and doing them perfectly. That much we have learned.
Bottom line: There have been exactly three cases that presented in the United States. It is a serious disease that must be taken seriously, but let’s be serious rather than hysterical. And to the political campaigns using this issue to create fear about immigration and other issues — just stop it!
A note on events in Canada yesterday: I was saddened to see the attack on the Canadian war memorial and Parliament in Ottawa. It served to underscore the unfortunate reality of our life today in fighting terrorism and the forces they unleash. On a personal note, I visited Ottawa and the memorial and the Parliament building a few years back and was struck by the apparent lack of an overt presence of police and other security forces throughout the area. I liked it. I especially liked it in the context of our public buildings and monuments in this country being turned into fortresses. I am sure that the Canadians will now reevaluate their security conditions and change their way of doing business. I am saddened by that. I recognize the reality of the world that we live in today and can offer no viable alternative. But it still saddens me because the goal of terrorism is to change the way that society conducts itself, and in that regard the terrorists are winning.