We struggle to figure out the basic facts about the spread of the disease as officials try to calm our fears.
By Rick Brinegar
A woman who became ill on a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) train on Saturday, October 18th, was originally reported to be on a watch list for people being monitored for symptoms of Ebola. She was not on the list. However, she had visited for a few days at the apartment complex where “patient zero” Thomas Duncan resided, before he died from the virus on October 8. The woman was taken to a hospital for observation. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins remarked, “She’s the sixth person who’s thrown up at a DART facility today. That is just part of public transportation that I was unaware of, but that does happen,” as if to say there was no cause for alarm.
A DART spokesperson reported that the train used by the ill woman would be removed from service “and cleaned consistent with our established protocols for cleaning hazardous materials.” However, when the train arrived at the DART maintenance yard in southwest Dallas, the regular cleaning crew refused to go near it. DART mechanics also refused to clean the train. Dallas police arrived with hazardous materials gear which was then provided to the cleaning crew. The cleaning crew has no HAZMAT training or certification. What “established protocols” are we talking about here?
Over 4000 people have died from Ebola as the disease has scourged several countries in Africa before killing one patient and infecting two nurses in the United States. Sales of hand sanitizer, protective masks and bio-hazard suits have soared. As many prepare for the worst, public officials continue to try to calm our fears.
Early in October, President Obama and CDC officials tried to reassure us that an outbreak of Ebola in the United State was “highly unlikely” and “extremely low.” More recently, National Geographic has revealed that the federal government initially failed to provide adequate protective gear and training to the hospital’s staff where Thomas Duncan was treated. The article goes on to describe how reassurances that the situation was under control were discounted by early missteps and “dramatically shifting responses.”
The credibility of the official response to the Ebola crisis is already stretched thin. Wouldn’t the public interest be better served by providing statements based in fact, rather than trying to salve over the situation with the best political and psychological spin?