The CDC came under fire over the last few days for giving the green light for Amber Vinson to return to Dallas on Monday on a commercial flight, even though the member of Thomas Duncan’s care team had reported a fever of 99.5 degrees. Late last night, the CDC said Vinson may have been symptomatic for days by that time — perhaps even when she took the flight from Dallas to Cleveland the Friday before her return. But that’s not the biggest issue in this video from CNN, who interviewed the dressmaker that fitted Vinson and her bridal party during that period for an upcoming wedding in May. When shop owner Anna Yonker called the CDC to ask what she should do, they had no idea (via Instapundit):
“If this is as serious as it is,” Yonker asks, “why is it being handled in such a non-serious way?” Good question. Yonker apparently suggested to the CDC that she close the shop, to which they responded affirmatively, but as if the idea hadn’t occurred to them. They later showed up with a thermometer, which was the extent of their support, according to this account by Yonker.
The CDC says they’re expanding their outreach after getting contradictory information about when exactly Vinson became symptomatic:
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.” …
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.
“Outreach” in regard to the later flight consisted of publishing a hotline number for passengers to call. That’s not exactly outreach; it’s more like box-checking. Airlines maintain flight manifests, and since 9/11 those are considered to be highly accurate (no ticket switching) and should have contact information as well. A serious approach would have health officials locating these passengers as soon as possible to start monitoring their vital signs and restrict the possibility of secondary and tertiary transmission. Days later, though, that might be locking the barn door after the horse has bolted. At this point, we have to hope that Vinson wasn’t contagious and/or didn’t transmit the virus out of luck.
At this point, Ebola itself isn’t a crisis, but the manner in which it’s been handled gives no confidence that the US is the least bit prepared to keep it from becoming one.
Update: And here’s another data point that will fail to build confidence in the CDC’s leadership:
Obama administration officials said Friday that a Dallas health care worker who handled a lab specimen from an Ebola-infected man from Liberia who died of the disease was on a Caribbean cruise ship where she has self-quarantined and was being monitored for any signs of infection.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement that the woman had shown no signs of the disease and had been asymptomatic for 19 days.
The government was working to return the woman and her husband to the U.S. before the ship completes its cruise. The White House said the State Department was working with an unidentified country to secure their transportation home.
Guess what Belize has? A travel ban:
The government of Belize reportedly released a statement on Thursday saying it had rejected a U.S. request to allow the cruise passenger to pass through the Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport, which services the Belizean capital.
In the statement, published by a local news network in Belize, the government assured the country’s residents that the passenger “never set foot in Belize.”
According to reports, the Belize authorities has refused to allow the ship to dock at all.
Now, there is no reason to suspect at this point that the lab handling the samples had a breach in protocol. The only people who have contracted the disease had direct contact of some sort with the patient, Thomas Duncan. This story looks like it came up as an overabundance of caution, perhaps to a fault. It’s unclear, though, why the CDC suddenly requested that the lab worker isolate herself and her traveling companion on the ship — and why they didn’t keep workers in the chain from traveling at all, if there was any risk involved. Noah will have more on this later this morning as the story develops.