One scary thing about Ebola is how quickly we become like those primitive, irrational people who had to deal with the Black Death in the Middle Ages.
Those cruel, foolish people who used to keep poor, suffering souls dying from the plague out of their towns.
It’s funny how tough and rational those people suddenly seem now that I’m the one worrying about whether “someone with Ebola-like symptoms” has attracted a crew of emergency response workers in Hazmat suits at a nearby airport.
A few weeks ago, I used to try to track the ups and downs in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange system by searching Twitter for terms like #HIX and unpaid. Now, I find myself searching Twitter for hazmat, or plane and hazmat, or airport and hazmat.
On the one hand, Ebola is certainly not nearly as contagious as the common cold, or even something like tuberculosis. Countries like Nigeria say they’ve managed to stamp out outbreaks. When officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) say, “We have no evidence that people can spread the virus before symptoms appear,” it seems reasonable to believe that they’re correct.
Public health authorities ring alarm bells for one outbreak or another every few years, in part because of trauma over the 1918 flu pandemic. In most cases, a catastrophic pandemic does not occur, or at least not in Western countries. Our public health authorities get the situation under control, and life goes on.
But, on the other hand, when CDC officials list, “Patients can’t spread Ebola until they have symptoms” as a fact, and journalism groups send me e-mails with subject lines such as “Report responsibly on public health preparedness,” I start to feel as if I ought to start looking for memoirs by reporters who worked in East Germany in the 1960s. Maybe they have some career tips that could come in handy in the current environment.
We seem to have people who hyperventilate at the thought of a non-U.S. citizen with an upset stomach on the one hand, and people who yammer on as if it’s fine to share a toothbrush with someone with asymptomatic Ebola on the other, and a hard time finding credible experts who are just doing their best to describe the situation as well as they can, without spin.
On the third hand, for me, what makes reading any CDC statements about Ebola difficult — especially when the statements seem to be even a little overly positive or a little overly certain — is thinking about how HHS has done everything it could to control and slow the release of PPACA exchange information, and, in some cases, to spin the information it has released.
If officials at HHS lack the moral courage to say how many, or how few, employers have signed up for PPACA Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) plans, how can I trust them to give me full, honest information about Ebola?