If you liked 'poop cruise,' you’ll love ‘Ebola cruise’

If you go anywhere near a television today which happens to be tuned to a cable news channel, you can expect to see some fairly extensive coverage of the latest Ebola scare.

It seems yet another health care worker has failed to observe Centers for Disease Control protocols and boarded public transportation after handling specimens from the Ebola “index patient” Thomas Eric Duncan. The CDC was notified late Wednesday that an individual on board a Carnival cruise ship is in self-imposed isolation, and the boat she is on is adrift in the Caribbean Sea as its intended destination port in Belize is refusing to allow it to dock.

“At no point in time has the individual exhibited any symptoms or signs of infection, and it has been 19 days since she was in the lab with the testing samples,” read a statement Carnival provided to USA TODAY. “She is deemed by CDC to be very low risk.”

The Washington Post also reported that there is little cause for concern:

The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital employee and a partner boarded the ship Oct. 12 in Galveston, Tex., before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the requirement for active monitoring, the State Department said in a statement. Although the worker is showing no symptoms of the disease, the U.S. government is working with the cruise line to get the ship back to America “out of an abundance of caution.”

The employee, who has not been named, did not come into direct contact with Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. However, he or she may have been exposed to his clinical specimens.

Even if this individual were a carrier of the virus, an unlikely prospect given that there have been so many Ebola scares which have turned out to be false alarms, it is not likely that the suspected carrier would have transmitted the disease to her fellow passengers. And cable news will report all of this today… at least twice an hour, and only after hyping the threat of a plague ship soon to arrive on American shores.

We have seen this movie before. When another Carnival ship was hit by a spreading norovirus in 2013 – a not uncommon occurrence – CNN literally went wall-to-wall with the story. A post via The Wire reveled just how extensive the coverage of the stricken vessel was over the course of just one day of CNN’s saturation coverage. BuzzFeed’s Dorsey Shaw calculated that, between 5 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the day the story peaked, CNN spent 247 minutes or nearly 40 percent of its broadcast day covering what he called “Jeff Zucker’s Gulf War.”

“In this 24-hour period, CNN dedicated 758 broadcast minutes to the Poop Ship,” Shaw wrote. “That’s 52% of the day.” All that for a boat with a few queasy passengers and some stopped up toilets.

Now, this Ebola scare is of a decidedly lesser magnitude than even the norovirus, but the cable news environment is not above hyping epidemiological threats. With a limited number of actual Ebola cases to cover, the press is likely to jump on this dubious episode.