In this week’s address President Obama attempts to reassure the American people that Ebola is contained, well understood, and will not be a problem. He covers a few basic facts in his weekly address:
- Only 3 cases of Ebola in USA;
- Ebola is a difficult disease to catch… the only way to contract Ebola is to come into contact with the bodily fluids of somebody already showing symptoms;
- We know how to fight the disease and we’re stepping up our response;
- We can’t cut ourselves off from Africa, so we can stop it at its source.
Here are my responses to these facts:
- True. But two of those people are healthcare workers who thought they were doing what was needed to protect themselves. So, in partial response to his third point, we obviously don’t know how to fight this disease. He also later states that this fight will take a long time and the surfacing of more cases are on the table. So while this point is true, it’s pointless. This is just the beginning of a bigger problem.
- Disputed. In a recent report from CIDRAP, (The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota), another set of infectious disease experts say:
We believe there is scientific and epidemiologic evidence that Ebola virus has the potential to be transmitted via infectious aerosol particles both near and at a distance from infected patients, which means that healthcare workers should be wearing respirators, not face masks.
The minimum level of protection in high-risk settings should be a respirator with an assigned protection factor greater than 10. A powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) with a hood or helmet offers many advantages over an N95 filtering facepiece or similar respirator, being more protective, comfortable, and cost-effective in the long run.
In other words, some experts say it may be possible to contract Ebola if bodily fluids from an infected person are aerosolized in a tight space.
- Disputed. In a recent Congressional Hearing aired on C-SPAN we witness many times over the doubts of some of our elected representatives on the adequacy of the White House and CDC’s response to the Ebola problem. Clearly there are many people in Washington DC that believe we should be doing much more, and that the CDC doesn’t have a firm grasp of the problem.
- True, but this is not a black & white situation – no pun intended. We can secure our borders and restrict air travel without shutting down efforts to stop Ebola at it’s source. This idea was suggested repeated by several politicians during the recent Congressional Hearing.
The Conclusion I Draw
I think the White House is in full spin control mode as a national security precaution. If the White House were to issue any other message, especially one that sparked more concern, people might panic and that could collapse efforts to control the disease.
So while their motives may be well-intentioned they have no legs to run a long race. You can’t dismiss a growing problem with spin indefinitely. In fact when you do this you increase the backlash when the public wakes-up or is leveled-with.
I think the Obama Administration should take a different path, and in this week’s address he laid the groundwork for this alternative by saying that every American citizen will have a role to play.
This is an opportunity to kick-off a health-centric civil defense program, which might even help promote and support Obamacare indirectly.
The primary core message for jump-starting this program would be confronting Ebola head-on with an overwhelming force. It’s not an over-reaction to fear but a calculated asymmetrical assault on the disease that confronts every possible avenue this enemy could take. It’s not a war on Ebola, which would be too cliche, but an strategically overwhelming response that closes all gaps for this disease to spread.
Such a bold move could also earn President Obama serious kudos. Instead of attempting to downplay the risk, which the public sees as weakness and avoidance, he could use the appointment of Ron Klain as the catalyst for this shift in approach.
Immediate actions for a health-centric civil defense program could be:
- Encourage people to build-up their immune systems. Make it widely known that eating less gluten, dairy, fast food, manufactured food, etc, weakened the immune system and increases an individuals chance of beating any bug. Strengthened immune systems start with a healthy gut. When your gut is clogged with cheese, gluten, and empty calories they become a breeding ground for bad gut flora, and your health deteriorates.
- Develop and distribute a Home Ebola Early Detection Kit along with the necessary personal protective (PPE) gear and information to help people isolate households where Ebola is discovered. This should be as easy to use as a home pregnancy kit and come in easy safe disposal packaging.
- Encourage people to wear PPE gear as soon as they feel sick or travel in public – even if Ebola has not reached their area. Gloves and an N95 mask, plus good safe handling measures (avoid touching face, or unnecessarily touching surfaces) can give someone an edge over any contagious disease including the flu.
- Be ready to distribute supplies and care information to households where Ebola emerges. This will help folks voluntarily shelter in place for long time periods. At some point hospitals may not have space or adequate numbers of healthcare workers to handle a growing number of Ebola patients. If this happens we will need a back-up plan ready to roll. The most obvious next step would be to empower people to shelter in place and care for themselves.
- Provide people with assurances that they will not loose their jobs or income if their household needs to be quarantined. I realize this could get very expensive financially, but giving people the security to isolate themselves should help eliminate the pressure to leave their quarantine.
- Build a robust plan to keep public utilities operational like the power grid, water system, teach pickup, and sewer. Work immediately to decentralize the power grid to eliminate key points of failure and improve the overall robustness of the grid.
- Immediately ramp-up the manufacture of PAPR (Powered Air Purifying Respirator) forced air breathing units and other necessary PPE gear. While the current message from the WHO and CDC says that Ebola is not airborne, others suggest that it can be under certain situations. So as an informed precaution give healthcare workers and emergency responders the best PPE possible. This will also help keep people on the job longer.
- Until the danger has passed, improve control at the borders. Require waiting periods of up to several days to monitor for signs of infection. Use disaster relief housing units at the borders as temporary housing.
Consider making this kind of civil defense program international since the problem can travel everywhere. Then, like the powers-that-be are already suggesting, ramp up the international response in Africa. Heading off the disease at its source should be the top priority.
So just to recap… where I disagree with the White House is in the domestic approach, not the efforts in Africa.
What to Do?
I’m skeptical that our government is capable of implementing anything like this, or inclined to do so, we should consider these kinds of measures for ourselves. This you can do right now are:
- Learn how to improve your own immune system and make those changes now.
- Acquire basic PPE gear now (N95 masks, gloves, etc), and learn how to use it in an emergency.
- Be ready to shelter in place for an extended time.
- Reduce your exposure to all pathogens by limiting travel and unnecessary activities outside the home.
- Prepare back-up plans for electricity, water, and sewer.
An Ebola epidemic in America is on the table. We must not give into fear and respond stupidly, but we should not cling to the idea that everything is under control until the American people themselves feel empowered to defend themselves against this enemy.