The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Travel Ban

In it's flailing effort to stay ahead of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the transmission of the disease into the United States, the Obama administration and the CDC seem content to perform perfunctory entry exams at a few gateway U.S airports, telling us that that is the best they can do without "crippling the economy of West African countries."

The problem, of course is that entry exams are NOT the best they can do.  Promises of a well designed protocol for controlling the disease in Western countries seem unreliable after health care workers in Spain and the United States have tested positive after treating Ebola patients. The CDC and WHO  both keep revising their epidemiological estimates upward—surely, not a confidence building fact.

In this milieu, the Obama administration seems far more interested in the political ramifications of any Ebola travel ban decision than on establishing the best mechanism for protecting our country. But with 60 percent of the country demanding a travel ban and with over 100 visa application per day being processed in West Africa, it's hard to see a political upside for this president.

But back to the efficacy of gateway airport checks. Fusion reports:
The Ebola outbreak [in West Africa] continues to spiral out of control. Near the epicenter of the epidemic in West Africa, more than 3,400 people have died and more than 7,000 people have been infected with the virus. Officials are scrambling to contain the outbreak at its source and keep it from spreading.

The World Health Organization is sending doctors to countries where the virus is most prevalent — Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Fusion’s Jorge Ramos spoke to one of the doctors, Dr. Aileen Marty, who recently returned home to Miami after spending 31 days in Nigeria. She says she was surprised what happened when she arrived at Miami International Airport.

“I get to the kiosk … mark the fact that I’ve been in Nigeria and nobody cares, nobody stopped me,” Marty said.

“Not a single test?” Ramos asked her, surprised.

“Nothing,” Marty answered.

The White House recently announced it would implement additional measures for screening passengers coming into the U.S. from Ebola-stricken countries. New screenings will start at five major airports across the country, including New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

Travelers coming from West Africa will be taken to special screening areas to be examined for symptoms and questioned about any possible exposure they might have had to Ebola.
Government agencies do not distinguish themselves with efficiency or competence, and there is no reason to believe that checks for incoming travelers will be effective in spotting someone who may have been exposed to Ebola, say, 10 days earlier. That person would be asymptomatic, would pass through the checkpoint and then be able to inadvertently infect others, possibly, lots of others. Not to mention that more than a few people, anxious to gain entry, would be less than truthful about their travel within West Africa.

As I have noted in a number of posts, the Obama administration should institute a travel ban for all people including US citizens who have been in West Africa within 21 days of their debarkation on a flight to the United States, no matter where the flight originates. Travelers would be identified, not by questioning, but by their passport entry and exit stamps. They would not be allowed to board a flight until 21 days had passed between their exit from West Africa and the time of their flight to the United States.

As the number of Ebola cases skyrockets in West Africa, the expected value associated with other cases entering the United States grows. From those cases, we have now seen that others, even health care professionals, can be infected. The risks are real, and government attempts to minimize them are both dishonest and stupid. Better to inconvenience a relatively small number of travelers from one region of the world than to risk a epidemic that would stress our healthcare system and potentially, lead to the preventable deaths of American citizens.

Only slightly tongue in cheek, Heather Wilhelm comments:
The official, high-level [Obama administration] strategy to combat Ebola—which, it bears repeating, is a contagious virus that can literally liquefy your insides—appears to be the same foolproof strategy that was recently used to not lock the front door of the White House. It is, in other words, completely devoid of common sense.

I was reminded of said strategy this morning, when I wandered into my kitchen, half-asleep, and discovered a live scorpion lounging like Marlon Brando in the garbage disposal of the sink. Let it be noted: I did not panic. What I did was a) rain relentless death upon the scorpion, mercilessly firing the dish hose at full throttle; b) jam the corpse down the disposal using a five-foot broom handle; c) turn on the disposal, chopping the spiky infiltrator into a thousand scorpion pieces; d) pour an entire container of bleach down the drain; e) dump another gallon of water on top of that; f) turn around to see my kids staring at me in wide-eyed awe, as if they had just caught the legendary Grinch attempting to shove their Christmas tree all the way up the chimney.

You know what? I am thorough, and I should probably be running the CDC. If the CDC’s current director, Dr. Tom Frieden, had been in my kitchen—and I say “current” because I sincerely hope he will become “former” very soon—he would scoff, tell me I was seeing things, insist that there was no way a scorpion could possibly climb up a garbage disposal, and then studiously apply poisonous Windex to all of my apples while the scorpion made an elaborate birthing nest in his hair.

Absurdities aside, this is a serious problem, and it is being handled by profoundly unserious people. Literal, irrational panic, of course, is a bad thing. A bit of healthy fear and caution is not. Unfortunately, in their valiant quest to stop silly, benighted Americans from their recurring habits of hysterical public sobbing, randomly firing AK-47s in the air, and running around in circles, shrieking, while pledging allegiance to various wild-eyed, wild-haired street preachers, the government has spent the last two weeks promoting a fairly dangerous message: “Don’t panic! It’s no big deal!” It’s pretty tone-deaf, considering their mind-blowing incompetence on Ebola thus far. It certainly fuels mistrust—and, ironically, it could lead to actual panic.
Unserious people? Nah, it's just another example of how Obama's Team of 2s does its job.

UPDATE (10/17/2014):
Listening to Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC, answer questions about why a travel ban is a bad idea is like listening to someone who knows his position is unsupportable and grasps at straws to justify it. With each excuse, the response seems more and more ridiculous until ultimately, it seems to be either insulting or insane.

Frieden is a medical doctor and is certainly not stupid. The real question is this: Is the untenble position on a travel ban his position or was it defined for him by the Obama White House? If it's the former, then the administration is irresponsible in not replacing him. If it's the latter, then the administration is not doing all it can and should do to contain the spread of Ebola in the United States.

The idiocy of the Frieden/Obama position on a travel ban—and it is idiocy—is best summarized by Peggy Noonan:
The language of government now is word-spew.

Dr. Frieden did not explain his or the government’s thinking on the reasons for opposition to a travel ban. On the other hand, he noted that the government will consider all options in stopping the virus from spreading here, so perhaps that marks the beginning of a possible concession.

It is one thing that Dr. Frieden, and those who are presumably making the big decisions, have been so far incapable of making a believable and compelling case for not instituting a ban. A separate issue is how poor a decision it is. To call it childish would be unfair to children. In fact, if you had a group of 11-year-olds, they would surely have a superior answer to the question: “Sick people are coming through the door of the house, and we are not sure how to make them well. Meanwhile they are starting to make us sick, too. What is the first thing to do?”

The children would reply: “Close the door.” One would add: “Just for a while, while you figure out how to treat everyone getting sick.” Another might say: “And keep going outside the door in protective clothing with medical help.” Eleven-year-olds would get this one right without a lot of struggle.
I have the uneasy feeling that the administration's incalcitrant travel ban position is somehow tied to the mistaken notion that the ban will be perceived as racially motivated and that if it is, it might hurt domestic support from some Democrats during an important election season. I know that sounds crazy, but this president has demonstrated repeatedly that he is driven by politics and ideology to the exclusion of most other considerations.

With each passing day, the American people are puzzled (or infuriated) by resistance to a travel ban decision that would act as an important element in our effort to contain the spread of a serious disease in the United States. The excuses we hear for not making putting the ban into place insult our intelligence and our common sense. I know I'm not alone in thinking that we're now being lead by children not nearly as wise as an eleven year old.