Monday, October 6, 2014

Ebola in Texas

That’s a headline I never anticipated writing when I began this blog.

I trust there are still enough people with a desire for self-reservation, that this won’t become widespread here. [Although the tiny conspiracy-theory side of me glanced at the idea that spreading ebola in Texas was a pretty efficient way to take down the strongest economy in the nation, by someone who’s resentful of it.] What I’d like to look at is the proper role of government, in this context.
Saturday, October 4, Houston Chronicle front page story
Conservatives aren’t, as maligned, against all government. We are for limited government with enumerated purposes. (Read my posts Role of Government and Proper Role of Government--Again.)
So, what does the Constitution say about Ebola? Nothing specifically. But generally, we can assume that a widespread death threat to Americans is something we have this federal government for: common defence (defense for the whole United States), general Welfare (pertaining to the well-being of all Americans at the same time), and securing the Blessings of Liberty, which are defined in the Declaration of Independence as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” (the third of which is a more general way of saying “property” without limiting that to real estate property, and expands it also to what has not yet been acquired but is being worked for).
Key here is life.
We retain, as individuals, the right to protect our own lives. Our states also retain the right and responsibility to protect people within the state. The federal government has the responsibility to protect from dangers between and among states (example: a murderer who flees from one state to another), and to protect from dangers threatening to come across our borders.
Ebola is such a threat. Until a month ago, there had never been anyone sick with this hemorrhagic fever virus inside our borders. We have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is meant, quite rightly, to offer common defense. It has a mission to protect public health and safety through the control and prevention of disease, injury, and disability. Part of this is the Communicable Disease Center (CDC), which has been around since 1946, when it was part of an effort to overcome malaria. (It was renamed in 1970 as the Center for Disease Control, still CDC for short.)
In our day, ebola has been a rare but important target of the CDC. It did research, and without a cure so far, has informed infected parts of the world on prevention and containment. In short, African villages with outbreaks have been quarantined until the disease ran its course. Sometimes with everyone in the village dying—but at least not spreading beyond.
For unknown reasons (unknown to me), the outbreak that began February 2014 was not contained as previous outbreaks. The places where it has broken out face some major challenges without First World help. They may not have running water, hospital isolation units, hazmat gear, or other basics of containment. It could be argued that we are not responsible for stepping in and controlling the disease in other countries. But if we don’t, the other option is to quarantine those places from the rest of the world—as a matter of life and death.
The outbreak has grown in Africa. And this summer, among those health workers trying to contain it were two Americans. They were given an experimental vaccine (untried on humans, and very limited prototype quantity, since used on others without success). Both were returned to the US, in contained air travel and placed into contained hospital quarters. So we were assured there was no chance of it getting out. I am glad they recovered; they were worth trying to save, since their efforts had been to bravely fight the outbreak in the first place. Nevertheless, they became the first cases of ebola ever on US soil. (News today was that the man is back in the hospital, but they think the new infection is unrelated.)
Still, the current head of the CDC, Thomas Frieden, assured that an outbreak in the US was extremely unlikely. Just days before the first loose cannon case arrived. A Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, who knew he had been exposed to ebola, suddenly quit his job as a UPS driver and flew to Texas, it is now assumed to give himself the best chance of receiving successful treatment. He lied in Liberia to get his travel visa; Liberia says, if he survives, he is subject to prosecution, which will make him a refugee who cannot return to his home country. But that does nothing to discourage others from following his path.
He went to the hospital when he began showing symptoms. He mentioned that he had recently arrived from Liberia. It was in the nurse’s notes, but for some reason those weren’t easily visible to the doctor who looked at his information on the computer system. It appears he did not admit to exposure to ebola during that hospital visit. He was sent home with an antibiotic. Two days later, after having spread bodily fluids around the apartment he was staying in, and on the sidewalk, and in the ambulance, and in the hospital—he began to be treated for ebola. He continues at this writing in critical condition. We are told the disease kills from 50%-90% of victims. Today it was announced he was being given yet another experimental anti-viral drug, no results yet.
We can assume, somewhat safely, that the hospital has taken adequate precautions to protect personnel and patients. However, there’s the rest of the circle of his influence. Supposedly he couldn’t spread the disease until he started showing symptoms. But we know that was at least two days before his ultimate hospitalization. In that time, he was in his apartment, his girlsfriend’s family’s apartment, came into contact with her and anyone else who may have lived or visited there.
Eventually the apartment and whoever had been there were moved out and quarantined (where they must remain for up to three weeks, assuming symptoms do not appear). A hazmat team cleaned out the Dallas apartment. Done.
Not quite. The list of people who may have come in contact with Duncan is now at 50—that we know of, with 10 considered at high risk of contracting the disease because of close contact. Again, that we know of.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, Breitbart News reported, went into the apartment the day before the hazmat team cleaned it out, several times, transported some of the quarantined people a 45-minute drive, and then went home to his family. We don’t know that he touched any of the infected matter inside the apartment, but he was in the apartment where such matter existed, and he was in contact with people who had been in contact with such matter. Jenkins is not under quarantine for the next three weeks. Nor are the members of his family—including at least one school child.
Meanwhile, news announcements of additional cases of ebola in the US show up--at five as of this writing.
I remember, with some chagrin, the last day of son Political Sphere’s second grade year. A next-door neighbor had chicken pox, so we had an expectation that, probably within a couple of weeks, he would get chicken pox too. But he wanted to attend the festivities on the last day of school. So I checked him carefully before sending him off on the bus. He had no symptoms: no fever, no headache, and most importantly no little red dots.
When he came home, he was itching. And the spots were there. And he had just exposed the entire second-grade class. Oops! We were self-quarantined for much of the summer. There were the weeks Political Sphere was sick, joined by son Economic Sphere a couple of weeks later—even worse. And three-month-old Social Sphere also got them, but fortunately only a mild case, at an age when she was too little to scratch them. She got off easy.
The next-door neighbors all got it; that’s where we’d gotten it from. So the kids got to play together once they felt well enough. I don’t know what happened with the rest of the second grade. My intentions had been good. I thought I had been diligent enough. Most importantly, no death threat was involved. Later in our public school experience, notice was given of a child undergoing cancer treatment, who was dangerously susceptible to chicken pox, but this was not the case when our kids contracted it. There is also now a vaccine. But, back then we just did the best we could to protect ourselves.
I don’t know whether the CDC has done enough to protect us. Today they're saying a "major outbreak" in the US is highly unlikely; but after their last prediction, it's hard to trust their assurances.
The federal government has a number of specific tasks it has refused to do. First, no one should be allowed into the country coming from an outbreak country—unless they have gone through a three-week quarantine to guarantee their safety. This should preferably take place before getting on a plane. Next best, and possibly in addition, would be undergoing quarantine upon arrival, before being allowed to move about the country.
This isn’t an extreme or unusual measure. When relatives moved to Singapore, some decades ago, their dog underwent a month-long quarantine before being allowed to rejoin the family. Missionaries going to various places around the world must get a list of vaccines first. Mr. Spherical Model had to update certain vaccinations before being able to travel to Angola a year ago.
Ebola has no vaccine yet. Prevention and containment are essential. Prevention and containment are included in the proper role of government. But our president will not prevent flights in from infected places—because that would be rude?
If someone comes to your door and says, “Help me! I think I have ebola,” and then throws up on your porch, do you invite them in, expose your family, and then call 911? No. You close the door, and then make the phonecall. And arrange for decontamination of your porch. No one would think you were rude for closing the door. Rudeness, when the life of your family is at stake, is the least of your concerns.
So what is going on here? Some speculation is that it has to do with the president’s open border agenda. He can’t close the border to possible ebola victims without admitting harmful elements can come in through our open borders. And he has an agenda for opening the borders and offering amnesty—and eventual citizenship, preferably tied to voting for his party.
Is it possible that his “open border” policy can take precedence over the life of Americans? Only if the person(s) with that agenda believe he can “think” reality into something he wants it to be, regardless of evidence. Picture a child, plugging his ears, saying, “la la la I can’t hear you.”
But the president isn’t doing nothing. He is deploying our military. He is sending around 4000 trained killers to… To what? I’m uncertain. One could picture them being placed around infected villages and shooting anyone who tries to break quarantine. But I don’t think that is the purpose to which they are being put.
One could, with a stretch, picture them building temporary hospital containment facilities. Why trained military would be used for this purpose, I don’t know. But they have some experience putting up and taking down temporary courtroom facilities at Guantanamo, for example. There are among them those trained to build bridges over which heavy trucks or tanks can travel. (The military may also have skills in blowing up such bridges to prevent enemies from transporting their materiel.)
I don’t know what it is these thousands of our soldiers are being tasked to do. There are many scenarios in which the president might place our military in harm’s way for a security purpose. Securing an ebola outbreak can be construed as a worthwhile mission. But it doesn’t appear, without explanation, to be an appropriate use of our military. And it does appear to be an unnecessary risk to their lives—and to the lives of anyone they may come in contact with during and after.
I cannot read the mind of our president, or his administration. But it is very difficult to trust someone who prioritizes keep our borders open—even if it means letting in a possible pandemic—so we don’t look rude.
I hope there are enough real workers—scientists, health workers, security personnel—state and local in the absence of federal—who will overcome the president’s blindness and return us to some health safety.

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