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Ebola panic on the high seas

All of this could have been avoided, if “abundance of caution” wasn’t just a talking point.

We’re not quite finished with you-gotta-be-kidding-me tales of containment failure and Ebola panic, as a cruise ship is currently stuck off the coast of Belize, with a passenger under the fabled “self-quarantine” we’ve heard so much about, after “self-monitoring” turned out to be less reassuring than the CDC hoped. ¬†Fox News reports:

A Dallas lab worker believed to have handled specimens from the Liberian man who became the first person to be diagnosed and die of Ebola on U.S. soil is quarantined aboard a cruise ship off the coast of Belize.

The Belize coast guard is not allowing the ship to dock or its passengers to disembark, although the unidentified woman is being monitored and has not shown symptoms, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. She was identified through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‚??s effort to track everyone who came into contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the man who died Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital after infecting at least two nurses who have been identified and are being treated.

“The employee has been self-monitoring, including daily temperature checks, since Oct. 6, and has not had a fever or demonstrated any symptoms of illness,” Psaki said in a statement. “It has been 19 days since the passenger may have processed the since deceased patient‚??s fluid samples.”

Psaki said a doctor aboard the ship has monitored the woman and confirmed she is in good health. She and a traveling companion have voluntarily remained isolated in a cabin.

The ship left Galveston, Texas, on Oct. 12. Officials said the lab worker did not have direct contact with Duncan, but may have had contact with clinical specimens collected from him. At the time the woman left on the cruise, the CDC was requiring medical workers involved in treating Duncan to self- monitor and was not restricting their travel.It has since updated requirements for active monitoring.

Hopefully this will all prove to be a false alarm. ¬†There have been a few dodgy reports out of Belize about someone vomiting aboard the ship, but people vomit aboard cruise ships for a variety of reasons. ¬†This was a lab worker handling specimens, not a nurse who had direct contact with Ebola Patient One. ¬†I don’t believe there have been any suggestions that these specimens were handled improperly.

But once again, the American people are scratching their heads and wondering why anyone thought it would be a good idea to allow any health care worker involved with the Ebola case to travel until the relatively brief window of vulnerability had passed, much less get aboard a¬†cruise ship. ¬†The half-assed scramble to revise “protocols” left us in the worse possible position, inflicting the maximum possible expense and uncertainty upon the American people. ¬†Nobody told Belize that Ebola travel bans are racist and impossible, so they have one, and they appear to have a very different definition for the phrase “abundance of caution” than the Obama Administration:

The State Department did not confirm the location or operator of the ship the ship, but Belizean¬†news reports¬†identified it as the cruise ship Carnival Magic, and said it was being kept offshore after the island nation’s government learned that a U.S. hospital worker on board may have been exposed to Ebola. The government assured its citizens that neither the health care nor as many as 4,000 others aboard the ship were allowed on the island.

“The government of Belize reassures the public that the passenger never set foot in Belize and while we remain in close contact with U.S. officials we have maintained the position that when even the smallest doubt remains, we will ensure the health and safety of the Belizean people,” the government said in a press release.

The statement added that the passenger is “considered of very low risk for Ebola,‚?Ě but “nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, the Government of Belize decided not to facilitate a U.S. request for assistance in evacuating the passenger through the Phillip Goldson International Airport.‚?Ě

It doesn’t seem like a difficult bit of Monday-morning quarterbacking to say that the CDC’s response to Ebola Patient One should have been deploying the kind of “SWAT team” they’re only just now assembling, even though everyone assumed they already had such teams ready to roll. ¬†They should have locked down everyone involved in treating the patient until the danger window had passed. ¬†Perhaps that level of security would have gone beyond what agency experts thought was medically necessary, but that brings us back to this talking point about “abundance of caution,” which is rapidly becoming a sarcastic joke. ¬†Perhaps the government of Belize is being a bit too abundant with its caution, but as you can see from their statements, they understand the importance of going the extra mile to reassure the public there is absolutely no chance of contamination. ¬†That sort of abundant caution would have been far easier for the Obama Administration to exercise, by simply ensuring that no one who treated Thomas Eric Duncan traveled for a couple of weeks afterward, let alone traveling¬†internationally.

Nobody in this over-funded, over-staffed, under-competent Administration bothered to ask, “Gee, I wonder what will happen if we make a big deal about changing our protocols while people covered by them are in transit to other nations? ¬†What might the travel ban policies of those other nations be?” ¬†Don’t we have an over-funded, over-staffed, under-competent State Department to keep track of¬†such things? ¬†For that matter, this White House puts a lot of effort into polling and focus-grouping Americans to manipulate them toward the President’s ends, but apparently no one bothered to study how the public would react to an Ebola scare. ¬†The President evidently thought he could keep golfing and fundraising until anxiety reached the (proverbial) fever pitch, then make everything better with a speech.

How can it be that government agencies swarming with thousands of highly-paid bureaucrats can’t spare the manpower to keep tabs on a relatively small group of at-risk health care workers, or even run through the flight manifests and get in touch with everyone who flew with the second nurse who contracted the disease, Amber Vinson? ¬†The entire bureaucracy just kind of shrugged and put up an 800 number for passengers to call¬†them,¬†even though highly accurate lists of those passengers are maintained by the airlines as a matter of routine.

And that might prove to be a dangerous dereliction of CDC’s duty, because the Vinson story is changing¬†again. ¬†CNN reports that the Centers for Disease Control is now admitting Vinson might have been symptomatic much earlier than previously suspected:

Amber Vinson¬†was hospitalized Tuesday, one day after she took a Frontier flight from Cleveland to Dallas. Tests later found that Vinson — who was among those who cared for¬†Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, at Dallas’ Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital — had Ebola.

Authorities indicated Vinson had a slightly elevated temperature of 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit, which was below the fever threshold for Ebola, but didn’t show any symptoms of the disease while on her Monday flight. This is significant because a person isn’t contagious with Ebola, which spreads through the transmission of bodily fluids, until he or she has symptoms of the disease.

But on Thursday, Dr. Chris Braden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters in Ohio that “we have started to look at the possibility that she had symptoms going back as far as Saturday. … We can’t rule out (that) she might have had the start of her illness on Friday.”

“So this new information now is saying we need to go back now to the flight that she took on Friday the 10th and include them in our investigation of contacts,” said Braden.

The CDC announced later Thursday that is “expanding its outreach to airline passengers now to include those who flew from Dallas-Fort Worth to Cleveland on Frontier flight 1142” last Friday — which is how Vinson got to Ohio, from Texas, originally.

Is anybody going to get off their asses this time and¬†find those people,¬†or are they just going to throw out an 800 number and hope they call in, or maybe encourage them to swing by the CDC’s Facebook page and give Ebola a down vote?

The medical director in Summit County, Ohio, where Vinson spent time before returning to Texas, told CNN that two things have changed: what the CDC defines as a “contact” of someone with Ebola and more information has been gathered on how Vinson was feeling.

“What the CDC has discovered, through interviews, is that she may not have been feeling well earlier than we initially thought on (Monday),” said the director, Dr. Marguerite Erme.

“… It was nothing you could point your finger at and say, ‘Ah, this is a particular disease,” Erme added. Nonetheless, the new information “kind of signified that maybe she had the illness longer than what she had when (hospitalized).”

Her uncle, Lawrence Vinson, said Thursday night that his niece didn’t feel sick until Tuesday morning, when she went to the hospital with a temperature of 100.3 degrees (which is still below the CDC’s Ebola threshold).

Yet a federal official with direct knowledge of the case gave different information to CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen, relating that Vinson said she felt fatigue, muscle ache and malaise while she was in Ohio. She did not have diarrhea or vomiting while in that state or on the flight home.

The fact health officials are working from this latter assumption — that Vinson may have been ill for longer than once thought — could significantly expand the number of people who might have been in contact with Vinson while she was contagious.

Which means the risk list is now up to¬†eight hundred people,¬†including passengers on the five subsequent flights made by the plane before it was decontaminated, plus 12 people Vinson had contact with in Ohio, who have now been placed under quarantine. ¬†That’s 812 people who wouldn’t have been frightened and inconvenienced – let alone potentially infected, fingers crossed – if a real “abundance of caution” had been exercised from the beginning.

The chaos of the Administration’s reaction continues to be less than inspiring, as President Obama actually said he was open to appointing an “Ebola czar” yesterday… which means he doesn’t know he¬†already has one. ¬†She’s just been completely MIA throughout the crisis. ¬†Investors Business Daily¬†wonders “if anyone in a leadership position in the Obama Administration bothers to show up to work these days”:

Case in point is Dr. Nicole Lurie, who arguably should be front and center in planning for and responding to the Ebola outbreak.

After all, it’s right there in her job title. She’s the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, a position created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that reports directly to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Her mission, according to the HHS website, is “to lead the nation in preventing, responding to and recovering from the adverse health effects of public health emergencies.”

But she’s still alive and drawing a federal paycheck, because the last time she was spotted was one month ago:

After all, on Sept. 11, Lurie told the Washington Post that her office was diligently working with other federal agencies “to ensure that U.S. health care providers, hospitals, health clinics, emergency medical services … have the information they need to be prepared to identify and treat Ebola infections, in case anyone in the United States becomes sick after traveling from affected countries or from contact with infected individuals.”

Somehow the work product of her office, which doubtless includes millions of dollars in human and technology resources, didn’t include an Ebola response plan that said “keep everyone who comes into contact with the patient under control until the danger window has passed.” ¬†Thus far, the price paid for that failure has been limited to two infected nurses (both are said to be doing well under treatment, thankfully) and a great deal of¬†absolutely unnecessary¬†consternation, plus some expenses that could have been avoided, but frankly pale in comparison to what the Ineptocracy wastes every single day. ¬†Let’s hope we’ve seen the worst of it, and lessons are¬†learned before the next Ebola carrier steps off an airplane.

Update: By the way, even as Democrats predictably tried to turn hearings on the Ebola crisis into a circus act by claiming that heartless Republican budget cuts are the reason for the poor response, it was reported by the Washington Times that $25 million in bonuses have been paid out to top CDC executives since 2007, on top of $6 billion in salaries.  The Democrats are making a fantastic case for their own absolute destruction with this argument.  If you want incompetent government with a staggering price tag, defended to the bitter end by political hacks who see abject failure as an opportunity to whine for more money, vote Democrat.  If you want something better, the Democrat Party is the contagion you need to burn out in November 2014, and November 2016.

Update:¬†Along those lines, Elizabeth Harrington at the¬†Washington Free Beacon has the best collection of crazy-stupid spending by the National Institutes of Health I’ve seen yet, including some pricey punchbowl turds that have been widely discussed over the past week (such as the multi-million-dollar study of obese lesbians) and a few beauties I hadn’t heard of before, including $674k spent text-messaging drunks at bars to persuade them to stop drinking, another $571k to get heavy drinkers to stop smoking, and $5 million to data-mine social media “to study Americans’ attitudes toward drug abuse.”

It totals up to nearly¬†forty million dollars¬†of lunacy, which would have bought a lot of Ebola protection. ¬†Not that any of the measures that would have prevented the current hysteria would have cost much money; “keep everyone who worked on the Ebola patient under control for a couple of weeks” is common sense, not a million-dollar spending program.

Oh, and not to steal too much of Harrington’s thunder, but you’ll never guess what happened to a big chunk¬†of the $2.5 million NIH spent on designing origami condoms.

Update:¬†The CDC knew about the lab worker aboard a cruise ship on October 15, and notified Carnival Cruise Lines, but apparently didn’t see fit to inform Congress during hearings the next day. ¬†Somehow this gigantic bureaucracy can’t keep track of a couple dozen people during the biggest headline-grabbing health crisis in years.

Written By

John Hayward began his blogging career as a guest writer at Hot Air under the pen name "Doctor Zero," producing a collection of essays entitled Doctor Zero: Year One. He is a great admirer of free-market thinkers such as Arthur Laffer, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. He writes both political and cultural commentary, including book and movie reviews. An avid fan of horror and fantasy fiction, he has produced an e-book collection of short horror stories entitled Persistent Dread. John is a former staff writer for Human Events. He is a regular guest on the Rusty Humphries radio show, and has appeared on numerous other local and national radio programs, including G. Gordon Liddy, BattleLine, and Dennis Miller.

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