Attorney Dennis expresses opinion on US public reaction to Ebola crisis

The number of people within the U.S. who have been infected here with Ebola rose from one to two people this week.  That is a total of eight people in the U.S. who have been treated in the U.S. for Ebola (five of whom were brought here specifically for treatment, one who died (Thomas Eric Duncan), and two nurses (Nina Pham and Amber Vinson) who were caring for Mr. Duncan). That is three people who have been identified and diagnosed  on U.S. soil as having Ebola. Despite the isolated nature of these cases and that the U.S. has four specialty bio-containment facilities that can handle Ebola quarantine, one source cautions that”[t]here could be as many as two dozen people in the U.S. infected with Ebola by the end of the month.” Two dozen. Meanwhile, in West Africa, more than 8,900 people have been infected in this outbreak and about 4,500 people have died.

Eight thousand nine hundred people infected in West Africa. Three identified as infected in the United States.
Four thousand five hundred deaths in West Africa. One in the United States.

The Ebola crisis is in serious need of a solution: treatment and cure. But not because of the threat to the United States. It is in need of solution because of the threat to West Africans. Yet, that is not the spin and perspective that the U.S. media and public reaction here have taken. Here, the reaction to the risk of exposure and to “one more” person being infected is reaction out of fear.

As I watch the public reaction to Ebola, as I read posts, comments, petitions, and news tickers, and I hear “expert” after expert opining on what should be done, over and over calling for closing the borders to keep the US “safe” from Ebola, demanding that our President do this or that, referring to West Africa as “infected”, I came across one article that finally resonated with me.

It said:
“[N]ow is the time when we need to check our irrational reactions to this horrible crisis and avoid policies that will divert scarce resources from actual remedies. And we know from past experience that airport screening and travel bans are more about quelling the public’s fears than offering any real boost to public health security. . . Last week, the US government announced a new airport screening regime for incoming travelers from West Africa. Passengers arriving from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to five US airports will now be questioned about potential Ebola exposure and have their temperatures checked. . . [Except] [w]e know from past outbreaks that these techniques don’t work. Entry and exit screening was used during the 2003 SARS pandemic. A Canadian study of the public-health response following the outbreak found that airport screening [using thermal scanners to detect fever] was a waste of money and human resources: it didn’t detect a single case of the disease.”

As for that “bright” idea (and everyone who propagates it) to just close off the countries in Africa (in case you forgot Africa is a continent, not one big country), and “[a]llow Ebola to fester over there, and keep people safe over here”(see above), here are the top three reasons from that article above that “bright idea” just won’t work:
1) “[D]etermined people will find a way to cross borders anyway, but unlike at airports, we can’t track their movements” – see Central American unaccompanied minors circa the past year;

2) Sealing off the countries in West Africa means supplies and treatments can’t get in or out either. Or you’re leaving doctors and medical teams to figure out their own ways to get in and out. So it doesn’t get better, it gets worse. More people die because the treatments we know have been successful, the treatments we have used to save “some” of ourselves, can’t get to them, because we turned our heads and closed our eyes and said “not my people, not my problem.Keep them away.”; and

3) That “bright idea” will further “devastate the economies of West Africa and further destroy the limited health systems there” by leaving some of the world’s poorest countries to handle this crisis alone.

So when you think about how to fight Ebola, and you think of protecting yourself and your country from it, I ask you:

Do you remember that the siren song of summer about US borders was close the one to Mexico, to send back those children and women who fled violence, gangs, torture and abuse, to keep “illegals” out?
Do you remember the bigoted anti-LGBT equality arguments?
Do you remember how far too many Muslims were judged and labelled as terrorists because of their faith.
Let’s not forget all the other snippets of US history, our laundry list of “types” and “categories” of people who have been excluded, banned, shut off, and otherwise told “you’re not welcome here” or “you’re not one of ‘us'”: Blacks, Japanese, Jews, Irish Catholics, you name it, that line has been drawn. Them v. Us. Over and over and over again.

If you take a step back from Ebola for a second, you’ll realize that all of these lines have been drawn and perpetuated by fear. You’ll realize that instead of thinking with clear heads and asking “how can we do the most good,” “how can we help,” “how can we cure,” we think “how can I keep you away from me.”

Flip the table and be the outsider. The rest of the world closes all of their borders to all Americans because some Americans let fear dictate how decisions should be made. We becomes they. And we are no closer to a solution.

Less than a handful of “people in the US have been stricken by Ebola; more than 8,000 have in West Africa. The best way to avoid more cases in America is by protecting West Africans.”   A real solution to this problem is two-fold. It is not simply about protecting “us” from “them”.  One article points out that “[i]n addition to containing the disease in the U.S., in the end, experts said, Ebola must be eradicated in the West African countries that it continues to plague.”  As Dr. Arthur Caplan, New York University Langone Medical Center’s medical ethics expert said, “The war’s going to be won in Africa. It’s not going to be won here.” And there is nothing more true.