Growing up in Washington in the 1930s and ’40s, our home was, several times, put under quarantine. A poster would be tacked on the door indicating the presence within of a contagious disease — measles, mumps, chicken pox, scarlet fever.
None of us believed we were victims of some sort of invidious discrimination against large Catholic families. It was a given that public health authorities were trying to contain the spread of a disease threatening the health of children.
Out came the Monopoly board.
Polio, or infantile paralysis, was the most fearsome of those diseases. The first two national Boy Scout jamborees, which were to be held in Washington in 1935 and 1936, were canceled by Presidential Proclamation because of an outbreak of polio in the city.
Franklin Roosevelt, who had apparently contracted polio in 1921, never to walk again, appreciated the danger. In the 1930s, ’40s and early ’50s, there were outbreaks of polio in D.C. Swimming pools were shut down.
The Greatest Generation possessed a common sense that seems lacking today.
We read that five new Ebola cases occur every hour in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, that thousands are dead and thousands more are dying, that, by December, there may be 10,000 new cases a week of this dreadful and deadly disease.
Yet calls for the cancellation of commercial airline travel from the affected nations to the United States are being decried as racist, an abandonment of America’s responsibilities to Africa, a threat to the economies of the poorest continent on earth.
How could we consider such a thing!
Where once we suffered from infantile paralysis, now we suffer from ideological paralysis. And there appears to be no Salk or Sabin vaccine to cure our condition.
Exhibit A is the befuddled response of some in public service is the case of Amber Joy Vinson.
Nurse Vinson was among 75 health care providers who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian who brought Ebola into the United States. At the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital where Duncan was treated, Vinson had been among those in closest contact with the patient.
Two days after Duncan’s death, Vinson was allowed to fly to Cleveland to visit relatives. She then prepared to fly back to Dallas.
Before boarding, she called the Center for Disease Control, and said she was running a fever of 99.5. Yet she was given clearance to fly commercial back to Dallas, where she was admitted to the hospital with symptoms of the disease. She is the second nurse at that hospital to come down with Ebola.
According to CBS Medical Correspondent Dr. John LaPook, “Nurse Vinson did in fact call the CDC several times before taking that flight and said she had a temperature, a fever of 99.5, and the person at the CDC looked at a chart and because her temperature wasn’t 100.4 or higher she didn’t officially fall into the category of high risk.”
Would not common sense have told that CDC apparatchik to tell Vinson not to fly at all, but remain in Cleveland, stay in touch with CDC, and monitor any symptoms to be sure she was not coming down with the disease that just killed her patient?
In dealing with contagious and deadly diseases, common sense says to err on the side of safety. Public safety must come before political correctness. Community and country come ahead of any obligation to the people of West Africa.
Indeed, is not the first duty of the government of the United States to protect the lives, liberty and property of the citizens of the United States?
Traveling to Africa decades ago, Americans were given a series of shots to avoid contracting indigenous diseases. Travelers to the United States were questioned about diseases to which they may have been exposed in third world countries.
Now we have a government that considers it discriminatory to put troops on our frontiers to halt the invading millions from across the Mexican border, and the mark of a cruel and cold people to send back lawbreakers who have broken into our country.
The two nurses who came down with this disease after close contract with Duncan are being cared for in quarantine, as is the NBC crew, one of whom contracted the disease. And rightly so.
As for U.S. aid workers in Africa, they are heroic. But before bringing these good and brave people home, we ought to be sure they are not bringing back with them the Ebola they have been fighting.
If that means quarantining them for 21 days, so be it. If that means no commercial fights to the United States from the three most affected countries of West Africa, and no admission to the USA of any travelers whose visas show they have been in those countries in recent days, then it ought to be done.
Else political correctness is going to end up killing a lot of us.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of the new book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.”