The Grave Risks Of A Travel Ban, Ctd

Yesterday, House Republicans dragged CDC Director Thomas Frieden and other health officials onto the floor for a little grilling and grandstanding about why we haven’t instituted an Ebola travel ban yet:

“None of us can understand how a nurse who treated an Ebola-infected patient, and who herself had developed a fever, was permitted to board a commercial airline and fly across the country,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman. “It’s no wonder the public’s confidence is shaken.”

Upton joined other lawmakers, including Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and House Speaker John Boehner, who want the Administration to consider travel restrictions between the U.S. and West African countries, where the outbreak has killed more than 4,500 people. “It needs to be solved in Africa but until it is, we should not be allowing these folks in, period,” Upton said at the hearing. … Frieden countered that the Administration can better track people from the most vulnerable countries in West Africa without restrictions on travel.

Dr. Steven Beutler, an infectious disease specialist, favors quarantining everyone who travels to the US from an Ebola-afflicted country:

This obviously will result in considerable inconvenience and some expense, and in this respect I realize that it sounds draconian. But the fact is, it will prevent most importation of the disease.

If the quarantine could be established prior to travel, then virtually no cases would be imported from West Africa. Ultimately, it will diminish the total number of people being quarantined and being tracked, since there will be fewer contacts and less transmission. …

Note that I am not advocating travel bans. It is hard to disagree with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health director of infectious diseases, and CDC Director Thomas Frieden when they point out the necessity of engaging the outbreak at its source, and being able to provide material support to the affected regions.

John Cassidy sees politics pushing the administration toward a “tougher” response:

The President’s problem is that he appears to be reacting to events rather than dictating them. Initially, his Administration resisted calls to screen visitors from West Africa; the day Duncan died, it announced a system of screening. Until yesterday, the White House insisted that the C.D.C. had established proper protocols and systems for hospitals dealing with Ebola victims. Now it is beefing up federal oversight and promising to fly in SWAT teams.

Will that be enough? In terms of fighting the disease and protecting health workers, we can only hope so. For political reasons, however, Obama will almost certainly have to do more—a point conceded by one of his former spokesmen, Jay Carney, who on Thursday advised the White House to reconsider its opposition to banning flights from West Africa.

Morrissey backs Obama’s decision to focus on containing the outbreak at its African source, partly because he doesn’t trust the CDC to prevent things from getting out of hand once more cases arrive in the US:

In its own way, the CDC’s fumbles over the last few weeks proves the wisdom of Obama’s warning here. Just like terrorism, it is better to fight Ebola on its own ground rather than ours, because once it gets here, it’s almost impossible to contain effectively — or at least at the moment. That is one reason that support for a travel ban from Ebola-impacted countries has become a nearly consensus position outside of the White House. People understand that the first and best defense is to keep the bug from getting to the US at all.

Yuval Levin, who supports a travel ban and expects the administration to impose one eventually, nonetheless argues that we aren’t thinking about the threat correctly:

The very nature of the debate we are now having, including the debate over the travel ban, is evidence of the fact that we probably have not yet learned not to underestimate this outbreak. We are still thinking about it in terms of a crisis in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone that could reach our shores by the various means that connect us to them.

But the real danger, to us and to others, is probably far greater than that. Our greatest worry should not be that the disease could get to the United States from those West African nations but that it will get to Nigeria’s larger population centers or to, say, India or other places with massive population density and weak public-health systems, and from there will become an epidemic throughout the third world. The scale that this outbreak is now likely to reach in West Africa will make it rather difficult to prevent that, raising the risk of a far more colossal human catastrophe than the nightmare we are already witnessing and of a greater threat to the U.S. population.

That has not yet happened, and so it is likely preventable, but what the world is doing at this point in West Africa is probably not sufficient to prevent it.

Update from a reader, who comments on the original tweet we posted:

I was hoping for you to lay down some sanity regarding the whole “You can give but not get Ebola on a bus” thing, but you posted the tweet without comment, and since I’ve seen the point ridiculed elsewhere already, I’d like to point out what seems like the obvious message behind saying something like that:

If you don’t have Ebola, go ahead and ride the fucking bus. But if you think you might have Ebola, just to be goddamn sure, don’t ride the fucking bus.

Is that such a crazy interpretation? I mean, can you imagine what people would say if Frieden had said something like: “Yeah, if you have Ebola, go ahead and take the bus, who cares, right?” What do people want from the director of the CDC besides a reassurance that if you’re healthy and at low risk you should go about your daily lives, but if you’re sick you should take more precautions than may be necessary?

I haven’t been following the details closely enough to have an opinion on whether the rest of the administration’s Ebola response has been a giant cock-up or not (although it seems like maybe yes), but it seems like people are being lazy in making fun of Frieden’s comment without doing even a little bit of thinking.