Whether it is due to the sheer deferred Ebola panic (we warned in June it was only a matter of time before the "world's worst Ebola epidemic" made it to US shores, which promptly got us branded as fearmongers as usual), or the administration's bumbled attempt at damage control with a very confused and mostly pointless press conference on Friday afternoon, but three days ago, a petition was launched on the White House website demanding that the "FAA ban all incoming and outgoing flights to Ebola-stricken countries until the Ebola outbreak is contained." As of this moment, over 4,000 people have already signed it.
And while petitions are usually pointless exercise in public outcry, in this case the CDC already responded. As the Hill reports, a travel ban to the countries facing an Ebola outbreak could paradoxically make the problem worse, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden said during a Saturday press conference.
Paradoxically indeed? Let's listen to Mr. Frieden's arguments:
Frieden said the CDC would consider any and all precautions, but warned that a travel ban could make it harder to get medical care and aid workers to regions dealing with the outbreak.
He said that had already occurred when African Union aid workers tried to get to Liberia but were stuck in a neighboring country for days because of a travel ban.
"Their ability to get there was delayed by about a week because their flight was canceled and they were stuck in a neighboring country," he said.
But isn't it mostly US troops deployed in Africa now, sent on a mission to shoot the Ebola virus on sight, instead of "medical care and aid workers" who are now the primary respondents to the world's worst Ebola epidemic in history? Guess not.
Frieden also said the CDC has experienced a spike in reported potential cases of Ebola following the first diagnosis of a patient in the U.S. in Dallas earlier this week, saying the rise in concern was a good thing but that he remained the only patient who has been identified as suffering from the disease. Two patients who were initially identified as having potential Ebola symptoms in the Washington, D.C. area were ruled to not have the disease on Saturday.
"We have definitely seen an increase in the number since this patient was diagnosed… that is as it should be," Frieden said. "We have already gotten well over 100 inquiries for possible patients… this one patient has tested positive," he said. "We expect we will see more rumors, concerns, possibilities of cases. Until there is a positive test that's what they are, rumors and concerns."
So, after ignoring the problem for months, the CDC finally has precisely what it was hoping to achieve: panic? Great job guys.
Frieden also said there were lesons to be learned from the delayed response to the Ebola patient in Dallas. It took two days for those who had been in contact with him to be contacted by medical officials, and Frieden said that should alert medical professionals to pay especially close attention to patients' travel history if they're showing signs of fever.
"As we anticipated, the arrival of the first Ebola patient in the U.S. has really increased attention to what health workers in this country need to do to be alert and make sure a travel history is taking," he said.
And speaking of inbound cases of fever, moments ago ABC reported that CDC officials have removed passengers from a plane that landed in Newark Saturday afternoon following a possible Ebola scare.
United flight 998 from Brussels landed at Newark Airport and has been met by Centers for Disease Control officials based in Newark after passengers on board, believed to be from Liberia, exhibited possible signs of Ebola. The passenger was displaying flu-like symptoms.
The flight was scheduled to land around noon.
Officials with the CDC removed two passengers from the plane. A man had been traveling with his daughter and both were removed by a CDC crew in full HAZMAT gear.
The airline issued a statement confirming that crew needed to assist an ill customer. "Upon arrival at Newark Airport from Brussels, medical professionals instructed that customers and crew of United flight 988 remain on board until they could assist an ill customer. We are working with authorities and will accommodate our customers as quickly as we can," said a statement from the airline." Other passengers remained aboard but were eventually allowed to deplane around 2 p.m.
A scare which promptly concluded when within the hour, CDC officials determined that the people exhibiting flu-like symptoms were, in fact, not contagious.
Finally, as a reminder, Newark is about 20 miles form Manhattan, although those looking for a real dramatic impact should wait until the Ebola scare touches down at JFK. At the current pace of spread, of the Ebola panic if not Ebola itself, it should be a rather short wait.