Houston Chronicle. Oct. 27, 2014.
Ebola lessons: Amid this public health scare, keeping our wits about us is the best prescription
Now that the Ebola crisis and attendant panic in Dallas seem to have abated, maybe we can take a deep breath - remember, the virus is not airborne - and determine what we've learned that might serve us the next time we confront a public health threat, whether it's Ebola or something else.
The most obvious lesson must surely be to keep things in perspective. Certainly, Ebola is terrifying, but the fact is, it has killed one person in the United States, a Liberian man who arrived in Dallas with no temperature or no symptoms when he passed through screening in his home country.
The vicious jungle virus has a long way to go before it matches the flu, which kills 40,000 Americans every year, or traffic accidents (34,000), or guns (30,000). It has a long way to go before it competes with the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed 675,000 Americans and an estimated 30 to 50 million people worldwide.
Our fears are irrational and yet understandable. "You can do certain things to avoid the flu," Dr. Kyle Janek, commissioner of Texas Health and Human Services, pointed out last week in a conversation with the Chronicle. "Folks are afraid of Ebola because they don't understand it, and they know it's a quick, horrible death."
Our fears, however understandable, could be more of a problem than the disease itself for those of us far from the source of the disease in West Africa. Panic unduly burdens hospitals and local health facilities, sows distrust among neighbors and pressures elected officials into making unwise and impractical decisions. That's one thing Texans will have to be on the lookout for when the Legislature returns to Austin in January.
State agencies responded sensibly, for the most part. As Janek noted, "Everybody could see this eventually coming. We didn't know when, we didn't know where, which makes it difficult to plan for. The Dallas case forced our hand."
A Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, formed by Gov. Rick Perry in early October, has called for the creation of two Ebola treatment facilities, in Dallas and Galveston. Task force members acknowledge that it would make no sense for hospitals around the state to buy equipment and construct specialized units for an illness that most will never see. The task force also ought to review coordination among county, state and federal officials.
Certainly, hospitals and local caregivers need to be aware, in ways they might not have been before the Dallas case. "This is the new normal," Brett Giroir, director of the governor's task force, said last week at the conclusion of a hearing in Austin.
Part of the new normal, we would suggest, is for Texans, indeed all Americans, to look beyond our borders and encourage efforts to halt this public-health disaster at its source.
Obviously, this country and other countries with advanced health systems can protect themselves against Ebola outbreaks, but in West Africa the number of cases is still doubling every two to four weeks. Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone need American troops to help fight the disease. They need doctors, medicine, equipment. They need United Nations help and donations from individuals and organizations.
Here at home, officials need to plan, prepare and protect, but the surest way to protect both ourselves and thousands of West Africans is to fight this scourge at its source.
San Antonio Express-News. Oct. 27, 2014.
Ebola travel restriction could make things worse
Restricting travel between the United States and West African countries facing the Ebola outbreak has become a popular talking point with many politicians, especially here in Texas.
It sounds simple. To reduce exposure risk for U.S. residents, we should restrict or ban travel between the United States and Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone where the outbreak rages. While this sentiment is understandable, it's one that could possibly worsen the Ebola crisis, public health officials have warned.
For starters, it could limit the ability of health workers to travel to West Africa. Already, health and aid workers are struggling with limited commercial flight options.
A ban might also hinder the ability of international groups to recruit health and aid workers who might fear being stranded from home. And it could encourage people to go underground to avoid screenings, or simply head to other nations, allowing the disease to spread in surprising ways.
The recent move to direct all travelers from the three West African nations to five U.S. airports strikes a better balance, allowing health workers to track the travels of any person who might be exposed to Ebola.
Unfortunately, draconian quarantine policies in New York, New Jersey and Illinois — where mandatory 21-day quarantines are somewhat vaguely in place — aren't helping matters.
The treatment of Kaci Hickox, a nurse and epidemiologist with Doctors Without Borders, is particularly troubling. She was held in a spartan tent over the weekend in New Jersey until finally being released Monday. Hickox served on the front lines of a crisis and should be treated as a hero. We need more volunteers like her.
As of this writing, more than 10,000 cases of Ebola have been documented in West Africa during this outbreak. The World Health Organization has said if the international community does not step up its response to the Ebola outbreak, West Africa could face 10,000 new Ebola cases a week by December.
By comparison, there have been four documented cases in the United States, and only Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan has died.
As the world's leader, the United States has a moral obligation to help control this outbreak. But as a matter of pragmatism, the best way to ensure Americans don't contract Ebola is to control the outbreak in West Africa and help lead the charge on vaccine development.
A travel ban and draconian quarantines do a great job of driving political fear. Unfortunately, they do nothing to end the Ebola outbreak or necessarily make Americans safer from it.
The Brownsville Herald. Oct. 22, 2014.
In the month since a Liberian man fell victim to Ebola in Dallas we've seen a flurry of activity and heard plenty of chatter about it. Congressional hearings have been held and some people, including our Gov. Rick Perry, have called for travel bans from certain countries. Passenger screenings have been stepped up at many airports.
President Barack Obama even has announced the creation of a whole new bureaucracy that will support an "Ebola czar."
All for three outbreaks and one death.
Some people suggest people have overreacted to the issue, largely due to intense media coverage and the pontificating of officials who want to convince voters that they're on top of the matter.