Dropping The Ball On Ebola

If the world is a monster

’bout to swallow you whole

Philomath, they know the lowdown

Throw your troubles out the door

(I’ve been there, I know the way) Can’t get there from here

        —R.E.M., Can’t Get There From Here


I’ve been holding off on this, because I hate stating the obvious; but sometimes there’s just no way around it.

On March 25, the Centers for Disease Control reported an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Guinea, with 86 suspected cases resulting in 59 deaths.  In less than a week, that had expanded to 112 cases and 70 deaths in Guinea, and reports of infection were spreading to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.  Reaction from the White House?


Within two weeks the numbers in Guinea had risen to 151 cases and 95 deaths, and cases were further spreading in Liberia and Sierra Leone.  By the end of April the number of cases had passed 200, with 146 dead.  After five weeks, had the Administration blocked travel to/from these places?  Nope.

But it had managed to send a heavily armed team of federal agents to a ranch in Nevada to collect a tax bill.

Through May and June, the virus continued to spread.  By the end of June—90 days after CDC reported the outbreak—there were over 400 cases in Guinea, over 200 in Sierra Leone, and over 100 in Liberia; numbers double or more what they had been a mere eight weeks earlier.  Did the Administration move to block travel to the places battling the infection?  No.

But it did find time to make an illegal swap of five Taliban generals for alleged Army deserter Bo Bergdahl (as an aside, despite the apparently unanimous consensus of his unit as to what happened, we conveniently won’t have the results Army’s investigation until after the midterms).

CDC’s reported cumulative combined case totals continued to explode through the summer, as the virus further spread to parts of Nigeria (I’m only giving samples of the semi-daily updates here for space reasons; you can see them all here):

July 7:                 779 (481 dead)

July 14:               888 (539 dead)

July 21:            1,048 (632 dead)

July 28:            1,201 (672 dead)

August 4:        1,603 (887 dead)

August 12:      1,848 (1,013 dead)

August 19:      2,240 (1,229 dead)

August 28:      3,069 (1,552 dead)

In the five months since CDC first reported the pandemic, the number of cases had risen from 86 to over 3,000, with a fatality rate of over 50%.  By now, at least two Americans were among the medical aid workers infected while trying to care for the sick and dying.  Yet there was essentially no reaction from the Obama administration, and no move whatsoever to curtail traffic to the U.S. from the infected region.

On September 6, CDC reported that the infection had spread to Senegal, and was also being reported in Congo (although somehow CDC had determined that the latter was unrelated to the outbreak in West Africa).  Curiously, CDC for the first time included in its report—almost defensively—that no confirmed cases had been reported in the U.S.  Even more curious, CDC stopped including the cumulative numbers from West Africa in its semi-daily updates.

The following day—and I’ll leave it to you to speculate whether the CDC’s change in reporting the day before was mere coincidence—President Obama was on NBC’s Meet the Press, where he told Chuck Todd he was sending the Army to go build isolation units in Africa and that we need not worry about Ebola here:

“Well, Americans shouldn’t be concerned about the prospects of contagion herein the United States short term, because this is not an airborne disease.”

Just three weeks later, CDC confirmed infection of a man in Dallas who had flown here from Liberia.  He died October 8, and at least two of his U.S. caretakers have contracted the disease.  Now six-and-a-half months in, there have been nearly 9,000 cases, and nearly 4,500 deaths.  The disease has now been reported in Spain as well as in the U.S.  Although there is now some minimal level of pre-flight screening at some African airports, and post-flight screening at a total of five U.S. airports (beginning only this week), there is still no ban on travel to/from the affected areas.

This is inexplicably inept, or criminally derelict.

Efforts to aid local treatment to contain the disease are commendable, although one can question whether that’s within the U.S. federal government’s constitutional mandate; it’s almost certainly not a proper role for an already over-stretched military.  But if your objective is to protect Americans, the obvious and easiest first step is to ensure that that the disease can’t get here from there. And indeed, the WHO emphasizes the importance of keeping healthy people separated from the sick as critical to preventing spread of the disease.  Duh.  While it may be true that the Ebola virus itself is not airborne, its infected hosts certainly can be.  Airport screening is only as good as your ability to catch infected people; if they’re not yet symptomatic—it can take as long as three weeks after infection to show symptoms—or if they lie, you may well not find them until it’s too late.

Say what you want about the competency of CDC’s protocols, or the Dallas hospital’s initial response to the first case of infection.  None of those things would have been an issue if people from the affected region simply couldn’t come here in the first place.  Although Thomas Duncan would, tragically, almost surely still be dead, the two American nurses who are now fighting the disease wouldn’t be infected, and the dozens or more who have had contact with his caregivers (and so on . . . and so on . . .) would not now be at risk.

Unlike the crazies on the Left who to this day believe George W. Bush deliberately created Hurricane Katrina by executive order because he hates black people, I do not blame the Ebola outbreak on Obama.  Its presence now in the U.S. for the first time, however, rests squarely on the shoulders of his indecisiveness and the incompetence of his response once it came.  This really should have been a no-brainer, maybe not on the day of the first CDC report in March, but certainly by July when the pandemic was clearly exploding and was beginning to affect American aid workers in West Africa.  Yet although Obama told Chuck Todd in September he had made the Ebola issue a priority for his national security team what is now nearly four months ago, the one action item with the best chance of protecting Americans at home still hasn’t been taken.


That question becomes even more jarring when you compare the delay and non-response on Ebola to the speed with which the Administration acted to ban travel to Israel.  On the morning of July 22, a Hamas rocket landed about a mile from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.  One rocket.  Within 24 hours, the FAA had ordered U.S. domestic carriers to suspend flights to Israel.  Presumably the idea was to protect American lives that might be at risk should the fighting result in a commercial aircraft being hit.  Never mind that in living memory—someone please correct me if I’m wrong—no commercial airliner coming into or out of Ben Gurion has ever been hit by ordnance from the 60 year old Israel/Palestine conflict.

Clearly this Administration knows how ban travel, and to do it quickly, when it so chooses.  Why the inaction on Ebola?

Is the President afraid of damaging our critical diplomatic ties with Liberia?  Does he want to preserve our essential trade relations with Sierra Leone?  Does Guinea have some strategic position that is vital to our national defense?

Is it because the affected region consists almost entirely of heavy Muslim-majority countries (Liberia being the lone outlier)?

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised given this President’s track record of having no strategy to deal with ISIS in Iraq or with Russia in Ukraine, and complete inaction to secure the Southern border, among some of his more recent failures.  But we really have to ask in this instance how this President has managed to miss something so basic as taking the most concrete measure possible to prevent the virus from getting to the U.S. in the first place.  After all, how did Ebola get into Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria?  An infected person traveled there from Guinea where the initial outbreak began.

Now it may be too late.