There is some debate these days as to what is the proper amount of, shall we say, wariness about Ebola. It is true that it is not transmitted via the air, which makes it less dangerous than other viruses. It is also true that this outbreak has been bigger and harder to contain than others, leading some scientists to wonder if it might be more contagious than they had formerly thought. It is true that we have a better health care infrastructure than the countries most affected. It’s also true that the keen health infrastructure we do have won’t make any American who might lose a relative to Ebola feel much better, and it’s fair to be concerned about that.
It’s true that the administration has some kind of process in place to deal with the possibility of infected people getting to the U.S., albeit so bare and reactive a response that even senators don’t know anything about it. It’s also true the administration constantly uses incompetence as an excuse for its own failures, which it routinely does not find out about until they are reported in the media. It’s true that the CDC has done good and competent things in the past for public health. It’s also true that government health organizations have grossly mishandled anthrax, bird flu, and smallpox in the last year.
It is irrational to panic too quickly over Ebola, to radically change your daily routine based on one confirmed case in Dallas, Texas. Humans are notoriously bad at risk assessment. This disease understandably captures the imagination and has a perfectly doomsday feeling to cap this depressingly doom-filled summer in America. It would be equally irrational, perhaps more, to believe without skepticism that the powers that be have this deadly threat totally under control. And, if institutional failures of the past weren’t enough to give one pause, there was the president’s personal assurance when he visited the CDC just weeks ago, already obliterated.
So, yes America, be wary of this disease and those who breezily promise it poses no threat. And, yes, be wary that the media and your own very human imagination might be leading you down the rabbit’s hole of bad risk assessment and worst-case scenarios.
And, now to the good news, and there is some. Firestone handled the hell out of Ebola:
When it comes to Ebola, the rubber met the road at the Firestone rubber plantation in Harbel, Liberia.
Harbel is a company town not far from the capital city of Monrovia. It was named in 1926 after the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, Harvey and his wife, Idabelle. Today, Firestone workers and their families make up a community of 80,000 people across the plantation.
Firestone detected its first Ebola case on March 30, when an employee’s wife arrived from northern Liberia. She’d been caring for a disease-stricken woman and was herself diagnosed with the disease. Since then Firestone has done a remarkable job of keeping the virus at bay. It built its own treatment center and set up a comprehensive response that’s managed to quickly stop transmission. Dr. Brendan Flannery, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s team in Liberia, has hailed Firestone’s efforts as resourceful, innovative and effective.
Currently the only Ebola cases on the sprawling, 185-square-mile plantation are in patients who come from neighboring towns…
When the Ebola case was diagnosed, “we went in to crisis mode,” recalls Ed Garcia, the managing director of Firestone Liberia. He redirected his entire management structure toward Ebola.
Firestone created an Ebola treatment center, used hazmat suits originally meant for toxic plant accidents, searched the Internet frantically for tips, quarantined the first patient who later died, and kept the disease from spreading to any of her family members or any of its employees. During the height of the epidemic, Firestone’s treatment center has continued to treat the afflicted from surrounding areas, with decent success:
Firestone didn’t see another Ebola case for four months. Then in August, as the epidemic raced through the nearby capital, patients with Ebola started appearing at the one hospital and several clinics across the giant rubber plantation. The hospital isolation ward was expanded to 23 beds and a prefab annex was built. Containing Ebola became the number-one priority of the company. Schools in the town, which have been closed by government decree, were transformed into quarantine centers. Teachers were dispatched for door-to-door outreach.
Hundreds of people with possible exposure to the virus were placed under quarantine. Seventy-two cases were reported. Forty-eight were treated in the hospital and 18 survived. By mid-September the company’s Ebola treatment unit was nearly full.
As of this weekend, however, only three patients remained: a trio of boys age 4, 9 and 17.
When asked what’s needed to fight Ebola, CDC head Flannery said, “More Firestones.” Amen.
Between them and Fatu Kekula, hope.