Ebola – All is Not Well

While the policy wonks in D.C. and Atlanta mull over the Ebola threat, I keep hearing in my head Kevin Bacon’s voice (from Animal House) screaming ‘All is Well!’  Why? Because my message from the ground to the folks sitting around those polished tables is all is NOT well.

Last week I was taking my usual train home from New York to Wilmington. The train made a stop at the Newark International Airport station, and a woman plopped into the vacant seat next to me. She pulled out a bottle of hand-sanitizer and began rubbing it all over her face, hands and arms. I couldn’t help but look.

She whispered, ‘The Customs guys said a flight from West Africa had just been through the terminal before my flight – I wish I could take a bath in this. Want some?’ Of course I said yes and thanks!

Recalling my career at USDA, I asked her, ‘If you arrived here from England with a dog, what would happen to the dog?’ ‘Quarantine?’ she replied, and I nodded. ‘Or what if you were raising sheep in Idaho and you wanted to import breeding stock from New Zealand?’ ‘Quarantine,’ she replied.

That’s right, I said. (In fact I wasn’t correct about the dog, as you’ll see; but I was correct about the sheep.)

Actually, a dog from England might not be quarantined, but would have to arrive with an array of information regarding its most recent rabies vaccination. If Fido is not vaccinated or his papers are not in order, he may be quarantined, or sent back to England.

Sheep and other livestock need health certificates and are permitted entry only at select ports with quarantine facilities.

You might be wondering why this same technique won’t work for people coming to the United States who have been in an Ebola-infected country. The answer: Animals don’t have civil rights, humans do.

Or as my seatmate put it, ‘don’t tell me there’s some politically correct baloney that’s going keep us from not letting these people in here in the first place.’ (I just shrugged.)

So the not-terribly-confident head of the Centers for Disease Control tells us that temperatures will be taken at airports. Really? And what if someone says that’s an invasion of privacy and calls the ACLU?

And I’m not a doctor, but wouldn’t a blood test be more dispositive than just taking a temperature? Oh, wait, there’s that ACLU issue again – a blood test is more invasive than taking a temperature.

I can see it – in a few weeks, when President Obama’s back is to the wall, he signs an executive order requiring blood tests from anyone attempting to enter the United States who has transited through an Ebola country. In a New York minute, somebody would be filing suit in the Ninth Circuit (the West Coast’s überliberal one) for invasion of privacy.

Will some bright soul on Fox News or CNN have the guts to ask the ACLU if the constitutional right to privacy extends to a human being bringing an infectious fatal disease to this country? (Remember, animals don’t have such rights.)

Last thought: my heart goes out to Nina Pham, the Texas nurse who contracted Ebola from her patient, the late Thomas Eric Duncan. But instead of being treated by her employer, Texas Presbyterian Hospital, she should be at the Emory University Hospital or another hospital with a specialized biocontainment unit. Clearly, the directors at Texas Presbyterian think they can handle Ebola, but Ebola’s a major league disease, and as Mr. Duncan’s death indicates, they’re not up to playing in the show.

For Nin Pham’s sake, guys, admit you’re out of your league and get her to the right place for the right care.

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About the Contributor

Joanne Butler

Joanne Butler

Joanne Butler of Wilmington is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a former professional staff member of the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.