These days we’ve got plenty of people advising us not to panic about the Ebola virus. Whether it’s those ubiquitous, generic “psychologists” who seem to pop up whenever there is some significant incident, or public health officials who want to reassure us that in the grand scheme of things Ebola is really not that big a deal, experts galore are urging us to control the inner demons that might otherwise transform us into a howling, red-eyed, torch-wielding mob that could end modern civilization as we know it.
The counseling to avoid panic is a dodge, of course, because no one is panicking. But by depicting concerns about how the Ebola issue has been poorly handled as indications of unfortunate mass hysteria, the people who have dropped the ball can deflect and avoid legitimate inquiry. Tsk, tsk! They’re the rational ones; the rest of us are excitable, poorly informed boobs who are just going to make matters worse. Like the policeman at the yellow tape of a disastrous crime scene, they just want us to move along.
We shouldn’t fall for this sham in this case, and should insist on getting answers to some entirely reasonable questions. Ebola isn’t a phantom menace; it is a deadly disease, and in the latest outbreak in West Africa it has had a mortality rate of 70 percent, according to the World Health Organization. In America, we have established the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention precisely to deal with the enormous risks posed by such dread infectious diseases. When a man infected with Ebola reached America and received treatment in Dallas before dying, it appears that the CDC and the Dallas hospital that provided the treatment were unprepared to deal with the case in a way that ensured effective containment of the disease. First one nurse, and then another, were found to be infected, and now we learn that the second nurse was permitted to board an airplane when she was exhibiting a low-grade fever that is one of the first signs of the virus.
Is it panicky and irrational to question how and why these circumstances could possibly occur? If you were one of the 132 unsuspecting passengers flying from Cleveland to Dallas with that nurse — people that officials are now trying to trace and presumably monitor — wouldn’t you think it was entirely legitimate to question the competence of the CDC and to ask whether it was following any kind of meaningful containment strategy?
It is becoming increasingly clear that the CDC has badly fumbled this situation, which means that it is failing at the principal reason for its existence in the first place. Demanding answers about how that happened is not a a sign of hysteria, but rather of requiring accountability by a government agency that simply has not done its job and, in the process, is exposing the people it is supposed to protect to unnecessary risk.