LA Times, NY Daily News decry crisis of confidence in WH Ebola response

The New York Daily News didn’t take the subtle route in its front-page picture today:

Nor did they pull many punches in their editorial:

Later on Wednesday, after cancelling a congressional campaign trip to Connecticut, President Obama said that the U.S. would become more aggressive in coordinating the national response to Ebola, including sending a CDC team to any hospital with a confirmed Ebola case.

But, by stopping short of issuing mandatory protocols, the President again fell back on the catch-as-catch-can system that produced such disastrous results in Dallas. He did so at the peril of health-care providers and the public — because trust that individual hospitals here, there and everywhere would perform superbly is decidedly misplaced.

Frieden acknowledged that he erred badly in assuming that virtually any hospital could stop the spread of Ebola by following proper protocols. Cluelessness about those protocols appears to remain widespread.

Neither Obama nor Frieden had the sense to issue directives with the firm, clear quality of standards sought by National Nurses United, representing thousands of nurses across the country.

On the other coast, the Los Angeles Times feels no more confident than the New York Daily News:

Even as U.S. health authorities continue to tell Americans not to worry about the Ebola virus, their assurances are being undercut by the increasingly obvious deficiencies in domestic planning. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has repeatedly been forced to back away from his calming assertions that U.S. hospitals were ready for the disease and that the nation’s quarantines were more effective than those in Africa and would keep any infected people at home. …

And in another worrisome development, some Ebola experts are questioning the common assumption that screening for fever is a surefire way to detect possible infectious Ebola cases. In the current West Africa outbreak, about 13% of people with the disease never developed fever.

The United States does not remotely have an Ebola crisis, but it is beginning to have a crisis of confidence in the Obama administration’s handling of the matter.

Indeed. And after seeing how badly the system has managed a single case of Ebola in Texas — managing to spread it to at least two caretakers, plus expose hundreds needlessly to them — what happens when the next Patient Zero arrives from western Africa? What happens if ten of them arrive? Nothing we’ve seen over the last three weeks could possibly make Americans feel confident in the government’s ability to contain this outbreak, let alone one or more parallel outbreaks. In my column for The Fiscal Times, I argue that this reason alone should be good enough for a temporary travel ban between the US and Ebola-outbreak nations:

It doesn’t take “experts” to realize that high-risk potential cases of Ebola shouldn’t board flights or use any other kind of public transportation, especially after a containment breach has been verified.  Only after this information came out did CDC director Thomas Frieden announce that no other people being monitored would be allowed to board commercial aircraft.

The experts never considered that an issue, apparently. Even after that, the CDC asked people on the flight to contact them, rather than getting the passenger manifest from the airline and tracking down the passengers themselves. These are people who may have been exposed and who could carry the infections further over the next several weeks.

None of this instills confidence in this administration’s ability to deal with one single outbreak point. What happens when more come? The Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that two-thirds of Americans want a ban on travel from Ebola-linked countries until the outbreak subsides, and it’s not difficult to understand why. With just one case, we have two transmissions and potentially over 200 more, thanks to a slow response from the healthcare center and the CDC’s inability to keep a monitored high-risk case from boarding a commercial flight to Cleveland and back.

The White House insisted yesterday that no such travel ban would be forthcoming, but the crisis has rattled Obama enough to cancel a fundraising trip and stick around for a Cabinet meeting. Right now, the crisis is still very manageable, but only as long as they can contain the Dallas outbreak and hope another plane with visitors from western Africa does not bring another Patient Zero to America. Obama and his advisers should consider a travel ban as a necessary first step to prevent that – and perhaps to restore a little bit of confidence in their leadership.

Let’s just consider ourselves fortunate that the crisis is in confidence at the moment, and let’s hope it stays there.