Project 21 New Visions

Kevin Martin

Important Questions and a Few Easy Steps to Stop an American Ebola Outbreak


by Kevin L. Martin (bio)

 

In fighting Ebola, President Obama has repeated his strategy from the Libyan revolution and is leading from behind.

As public anxiety spiked at a fever pitch, the President and his staff made pronouncements and took actions leaving more questions than answers. It's no way to address a potentially growing threat to public health.

There's good reason to be concerned, as the White House seems incompetent or, at least, detached when it comes to preserving public wellbeing.

It's time for real answers. It may not be comfortable or good political optics, but lingering questions may cost lives.

First off, what did the President know and when did he know it?

On September 16, Obama said the risk of Ebola coming to America was low. That was four days before Thomas Eric Duncan arrived in the United States from Liberia to become our Patient Zero. But, on September 2, a government report commissioned by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Models of Infectious Disease Agency was published that estimated a 25 percent chance of Ebola reaching American shores within weeks.

Did Obama lie to us, or was this sobering information in one of those many intelligence briefings he missed or received "electronically" and just didn't read closely?

With Ebola still an imminent threat, what are the protocols to deal with it? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allegedly had some, but health care workers contracted Ebola anyway. Why was one of the attending nurses treated for Ebola allowed to travel on a commercial airline while treating Duncan? Why were nurses initially wearing protective gear that exposed their necks? Why was a potentially infected nurse allowed to leave quarantine and take a public bike ride?

During fighting between Israel and Gaza this past summer, the Obama Administration imposed a travel ban on all American air carriers into Tel Aviv. Too dangerous. Yet it's not dangerous enough now for a travel ban for countries where thousands are suffering or have died from Ebola?

Obama's damage control also necessitated a policy "czar" to coordinate the government's Ebola response. Ebola czar Ron Klain begs scrutiny because he seems to be more of a political fixer than anything else. He lacks medical training. He reports to Susan Rice's National Security Council not the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where the CDC reports. Why?

It seems too political. Just like Obama supporters blaming sequestration spending cuts (and, by extension, conservatives) for Ebola missteps even though the Obama Administration submitted smaller CDC budget requests every year between 2010 and 2013 and budgeting remains below the 2012 level.

What about National Guard boots on the ground in West Africa? Aren't these men and women better utilized at home?

As a Navy veteran who assisted relief missions while serving, I suggest the President step up in defending our nation first and use resources that taxpayers pay for daily.

While the situation currently looks stable, be ready to deploy both of the Navy's medical ships the U.S.N.S Comfort and U.S.N.S. Mercy as floating isolation hospitals off our coasts. Consider setting up isolated field hospitals to keep the infected away from the general population.

We spend millions of dollars yearly to train military doctors and support staff to deal with nuclear, biological and chemical exposure. It's time to deploy and use them.

Obama got lucky as Ebola seems contained in the United States, but it could have been (and still might be) a lot worse. Commonsense measures such as a travel ban and keeping our specially-trained military here (and not sending largely untrained personnel over there and into a hot zone) can help avert public panic and the far worse possibility of an actual Ebola outbreak here.

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Kevin L. Martin is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.


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