A nice catch by CNS, which notes that O’s advice seems to conflict with the CDC’s advice. The CDC says you should “avoid public transportation” in the U.S. if you’re running a fever above 101.5 after having recently returned from west Africa, suggesting that casual transmission in close quarters in public spaces is possible. (Shouldn’t you avoid public transportation if you’re running a high fever as a rule? You might have something more contagious than Ebola, like the flu.) The CDC also says that spending “a long amount of time” within three feet of an infected person is risky, a scenario that logically includes a long bus ride. In fact, a spokesman for the CDC told the LA Times recently that “I’m not going to sit here and say that if a person who is highly viremic … were to sneeze or cough right in the face of somebody who wasn’t protected, that we wouldn’t have a transmission.” Well, there you go. If there’s a risk of transmission on a plane, why wouldn’t there be a risk of transmission on a bus?
So yeah, Obama should have said it’s “unlikely” you’ll get Ebola sitting next to someone on the bus, not that you “cannot” get it. He also shouldn’t have said here that you “cannot” get it from someone who’s asymptomatic, since what does and doesn’t qualify as a “symptom” of Ebola is a subject of hot dispute. Quite simply, no one should be making blanket pronouncements about modes of transmission when even the experts aren’t sure anymore, especially a guy who’s screwed up once already in estimating the odds of an infected person entering the U.S. But the basic advice here — keep riding the bus, Liberians — is well intentioned and prudent on balance. The country’s already in a state of near-collapse; the more people hole up at home, however understandable that impulse is, the worse the economic damage will get and the more total the implosion of civil society will be. Many will have to ride the bus anyway to get supplies they need to subsist. What’s the point in playing up the risk except to add to their anxiety?