Amid heightened concern in the U.S. about the ferocious Ebola disease, two prominent Republican officeholders last week seized upon the proper concern over a Liberian national in Dallas testing positive for the virulent disease as a chance to show they think the GOP’s political cesspool has no bottom.
Both Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, asserted that the president’s sending 3,000 troops to West Africa to aid those nations’ efforts to contain the spread of the virus there, was endangering America itself by exposing these troops to the virus, which they, in turn, would spread to other Americans once they got back to the states.
Paul voiced his concern “about 3,000 soldiers getting back on a ship. Where is the disease most transmittable? When you’re in the close confines on a ship – we all know about cruises and how they get these diarrhea viruses that are transmitted very easily. Can you imagine if a whole ship of our soldiers catch Ebola? I think because of political correctness, we’re not really making sound, rational, scientific decisions on this,” Paul told conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham.
Paul didn’t specify what “political correctness” has to do with the vital global effort to prevent Ebola from spreading beyond its current “hot spots.” When the White House unveiled its plan last month to send the troops, it drew widespread agreement in Congress, including from the GOP’s Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Ohio’s John Boehner, the Speaker of the House.
But then, it’s also nonsensical that Paul would liken a military transport ship – undoubtedly operating under the strictest military discipline and specially outfitted for this tour of duty with the most sophisticated medical facilities and medicines – to a civilian cruise ship.
However, Obama-bashers Paul and Gohmert also got some interesting company. MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews seemed to blame the president for not preventing the Liberian national who has been diagnosed with Ebola, Thomas Eric Duncan, from entering the country. Matthews contended “that the president said it would be unlikely if we had a case in this country. Unlikely to have even one case … Well, it’s not the unlikely. It has happened. It’s here.”
This, too, is the attempt to score cheap political points. To say that Ebola is “here” because one individual has it out of 300-plus million people in America, or even just among the citizenry of Dallas is abominable. True, we won’t know for another three weeks – the time for the Ebola infection in individuals to manifest itself – if the now-10 people in Dallas government officials think he might have exposed to the virus are infected. Nothing untoward in that regard has surfaced so far, and all those people are being monitored.
It’s also worth noting what Matthews did not: that the Ebola virus actually was first brought “here” deliberately when the three American aid workers who had been working in West Africa to treat the ill themselves became infected and were repatriated to U.S. hospitals for treatment under the strictest conditions. All have recovered.
The success of their treatment and the lack of any evidence that the Ebola virus escaped those hospitals’ special treatment facilities is evidence that the Ebola virus is not in the United States. That assessment was reaffirmed over the weekend when doctors determined that two individuals, isolated in hospitals in New York and Washington, D.C. because they had flu-like symptoms, did not have the virus. Federal officials said that while they’ve investigated more than 100 suspected Ebola cases in recent weeks, Duncan’s remains the only confirmed case.
What the Duncan case has exposed, however, are certain gaps in the screen of containment governments have built to contain the disease. Of course, one must start closing the gaps in that screen where the task is the most crucial: in the countries of West Africa. Those nations must do a better job of screening all those who want to leave those countries. And airlines and the U.S. government must improve screening procedures for passengers coming to the U.S. In Texas, the still-unclear initial response of hospital officials to Duncan’s emergency-room visit and the fact that local and state officials spent days scrambling to get a hazardous materials team to disinfect the apartment of Duncan’s relatives is clearly a warning that government officials everywhere must heed.
Tightening these and other parts of the “screen” against Ebola in the U.S. and abroad will undoubtedly require more U.S. federal aid. The question for the Ebola-is-here and it’s-all-Obama’s-fault screamers, and all the rest of us, is are we willing to back up our talk with our money?
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.