In comments yesterday, Never Ben Better posted a disheartening story from Maine:
A teacher at Strong Elementary School was placed on a 21-day paid leave of absence after parents told the school board they were concerned that she might have been exposed to Ebola during a trip to Dallas for an educational conference....In addition to telling us that this town is in a panic despite the fact that the teacher in question stayed ten miles away from the hospital where Thomas Eric Duncan was treated, the story recounts other incidents of Ebola panic:
Jackie King, a spokeswoman for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, said the Dallas conference is being held at the Hilton Anatole Hotel, where participants also are staying....
The hotel where the teacher stayed is about 10 miles from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where the first case of the virus was diagnosed....
About 363,000 passengers arrived on international flights into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in August, the latest month for which statistics are available. About 5 million domestic travelers passed through the airport in the same month....
A Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for the Washington Post, who photographed Ebola victims in Liberia in September, was disinvited from a photojournalism workshop at Syracuse University even though he showed no signs of the disease for 21 days after his return to the United States.... In Hazelhurst, Mississippi, a crowd of parents pulled their middle school students from class Friday after learning that the school's principal recently had traveled to attend a family funeral in Zambia, which is in southern Africa and about 3,000 miles from the outbreak in West Africa.And here's a guy named Matt Dexter who has a child in that Maine teacher's classroom, and who, in his ignorance, probably reflects the way much -- most? -- of America is thinking right now:
"I'm really tired of people telling everyone, on the news, starting at the national level, 'zero risk, low risk,'" he said. "The bottom line is that there is risk. Are we more capable of handling this than Africa? Sure, but why walk around blind and jam people into hot spots we can't control? It all comes down to personal responsibility."I know the press wants to report on what is happening, and speculate on what might happen, but it's obvious now that what the public needs from the press is a reminder of what isn't happening.
Thomas Eric Duncan flew from Monrovia, Liberia, to Brussels, Belgium, on September 19, then flew from Brussels to Dulles Airport in D.C. The next day, September 20, he flew from D.C. to Dallas.
He arrived in Dallas -- infected with Ebola -- 29 days ago.
The incubation period is, at most, 21 days.
There are no Ebola cases in Belgium. There are no Ebola cases in the D.C. area. The only people with Ebola in Dallas have been Duncan and two nurses who treated him when he was unquestionably gravely ill, and when the nurses may not have mastered the protocols for protecting themselves from a highly contagious patient, or may not have had adequate protective gear and other safeguards.
The point is, we know that Thomas Eric Duncan did not communicate Ebola to anyone in his travels -- no one on any plane he flew on, no one in any airport he passed through. The people he had contact with until he was finally admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on September 28 -- 21 days ago -- have shown no signs of Ebola, and that includes his relatives and his fiancee -- who seems fine, by the way, but can't get anyone to rent her an apartment.
I know that, by now, much of America probably thinks that "we don't really know" what the incubation period is, just as they think "we don't really know" how Ebola is transmitted. But no matter what they think, they need to be reminded that there are no non-medical personnel who've contracted Ebola via Thomas Eric Duncan. Not his relatives. Not his fiancee. Not the people at the apartment complex where he was staying. Yes, it's true that the people who delivered food to Duncan's family after his hospitalization and later cleaned the apartment are still not past the 21-day maximum incubation period-- though they've had time to develop symptoms, and none have.
If the authorities are lying to us about how Ebola is transmitted, where are all the other cases?
With some people, it's probably hopeless to point this out -- they'll say there are other cases, but they're being covered up. (So why weren't the cases of Duncan and his nurses covered up? Why aren't the scares all over the country being covered up?)
But I have to think that some people would understand if they were reminded that the disease is being transmitted pretty much exactly the way the authorities have always thought it's transmitted, and isn't being transmitted ambiently, just as the experts told us.
Ebola was discovered in 1976. Do most Americans know that -- know that scientists have had 38 years to figure out what it does? Could the press please remind the public of the fact that this virus hasn't been a mystery to scientists for decades?
I have hope, because I lived in New York, which was an epicenter of AIDS as the disease was emerging. People panicked about casual transmission of HIV -- but, eventually, they didn't. Increased understanding can happen -- but people need to see what the virus does and doesn't do. The press needs to report the latter as well as the former -- and, by the way, so does the Obama administration.
MORE: I wonder if we need someone like Oprah to make this case. It's easy to imagine Oprah in her heyday flying down to Dallas, meeting with Duncan's fiancee and others who'd had contact with him -- and hugging some of them on camera, while also bringing on an expert to explain the transmission process and incubation period. Everyone in America would know that Oprah hugged a close contact of an Ebola patient. She'd say she had no fear because the incubation period was up, and then we'd see that she didn't get sick. A celebrity interviewer who did this now woul be doing America a world of good.