The other day the receptionist at my local neighborhood hospital where I had gone for magnetic imagery handed me a sheet and asked me to sign, not an unusual occurrence in an age where before we can be treated we must attest to our understanding of a variety of policies and pledges.
“You probably don’t need this, but we’re required to present it to you,” she said apologetically.
What I quickly determined was that I was being required to attest that I had not been to West Africa recently, where Ebola’s rampage has caused the world to panic and politicians in this country to tremble as they prepare for the upcoming national elections. Throughout this hospital, which serves a large number of frequent flyers to global places, many in the diplomatic corps, there were similar warnings to notify officials and doctors immediately if anyone had remotely come into contact with a possible carrier.
The hysteria caused by the death of a Liberian man and the infection of two of the nurses who treated him in Dallas has brought on mass hysteria, exacerbated by a constant “breaking news and this just in” 24-hour screeching of the cable news organizations and Twitters enormous spreading of misinformation sometimes as frighteningly infectious in its misinformation as the disease itself.
Barack Obama, who seems to be stricken with a giant case of the dithers on several fronts these days, finally has appointed a non-medical czar to try to straighten out the shortcomings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that have increasingly been cited as both inadequate and too unresponsive early on. What long-time Democratic operative Ron Klain can do to alleviate the situation is anyone’s guess.
Does he go along with an increasing number of politicians, including congressional leaders, and ban travel to and from West Africa, a step that medical authorities (well, at least some) claim would make it more difficult to track and contain those afflicted? Does he institute a rigid protocol that requires draconian measures never before used in this country? How do we protect U.S. troops sent there for logistical support?
Whatever Klain does will be in a political atmosphere in which Democrats accuse Republicans of fostering CDC budget cuts that would have provided the money to develop a vaccine, and Republicans increasingly accuse a leaderless White House that can’t seem to meet any crisis in a timely fashion.
It won’t be easy to relieve a public anxiety that continues to build, despite assurances that chances of an American epidemic are small….
Klain worked as chief of staff for two vice presidents, Albert Gore and Joe Biden, both of whom praised the appointment. He is considered a fixer and, unsurprisingly, in this city where lawyers outnumber nearly every other profession, he is one. He is given credit in the local press as “handling complex problems” like the economic stimulus package.
The question his appointment raises is whether a legal expert is what is called for at this juncture. A more logical choice might have been a public health or medical administrator, if a czar at all is needed. The appointment was in direct response to the president’s obvious frustration over his falling personal popularity and his administration’s failure through the CDC medical experts to move quickly enough. Too many mistakes were made like the one that allowed one of the two infected nurses who had treated the Liberian man to get on an airplane despite her reporting that she had a slight temperature.
Whatever, it would be a valid educated guess to assume that, if polled, most Americans would support shutting the door to and from West Africa temporarily.