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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ebola Today 10/31 ~~ Boo!

Birthers, let us introduce you to the continent of Africa.

Africa is huge, and very nationally subdivided. In fact, there are more than 50 nations on the continent, and at this time only 3 of them have an Ebola problem: Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, three small nations in the portion of Africa known as West Africa. And that’s it.

The other countries in Africa do not have the same problem. That is possible because Africa is big, it’s enormous, it’s diverse. Although that does not seem like a very complicated idea, in the United States we sometimes, embarrassingly, do not understand world geography. Low information, and even some middle information voters, conflate all of the different countries in all of the different parts, or regions, of Africa into one big giant thing, one big “Nation of Africa.” United States citizens, statistically, are not only confused, but quite often, especially amongst the Tea Party, the birther crowd, and Congressional Republicans, afraid of even the concept of Africa.

What Birthers see IF they have seen a map of Africa.

This flood of scary has parents panicking, and schools nationwide are knee-jerking, and basically, a bunch of jerks are pulling kids out of school, and sending them home, because either 1) they were born in, traveled to, or know someone who has lived on the continent of Africa, ever, OR 2) One or more of the children attending their school was, did, or does, and mom and dad aren’t taking any chances.

In the town of Hazelhurst, Mississippi, hundreds of kids were pulled out of their middle school after parents heard rumors about the principal’s recent trip to Zambia. Panic then spread to the local elementary and high schools. For the record, Zambia is in Africa, but it is literally nowhere near, 1000’s of miles away from, the countries that are currently dealing with the Ebola crisis. So 2 weeks ago, in Mississippi, that principal’s return to Hazelhurst was enough to start a youthful stampede out of the local schools, and back into the safety of their living rooms, and the Playstation 4s their parents were saving for Christmas. As Rachel Maddow puts it, “because…..Africa.”

On the same day, NBC reported that Navarro College, located in Corsicana, Texas, sent out a rejection letter to several students of Nigerian origin who had applied to go to that college.

“With sincere regret, we are forced to report that Navarro college can not offer you acceptance for the spring term. Unfortunately, Navarro college is not accepting international students from countries with confirmed Ebola cases.”

Now, the prospective students who received this letter are from, yes, a nation in Africa. In the case of Nigeria, however, the World Health Organization (The WHO) has actively affirmed there have no cases of Ebola.

Two days later, at an elementary school in the aptly named Friendswood, Texas — yes, Texas again, surprise — announced they would not be allowing one of their teachers to start the school year because she had traveled to apparently what many Americans believe is the Nation Of Africa. In reality, she went to Tanzania, which is actually farther away from the epidemic than Zambia is.

Two days after that one, in New Jersey, an elementary school there freaked out when dealing with a couple of kids that had moved to Burlington County, New Jersey this year from the East African nation of Rwanda. Rwanda, for the record, is over by Tanzania and also 1000’s of miles away from the countries troubled with the Ebola epidemic. From Tanzania to Liberia is like the difference between Bangor, Maine and San Francisco.

The state of Maine, who has been debating the issue of nurse Kaci Hickox — of the tent in New Jersey fame — has been stupid and made fear based policy decisions regarding Ebola even before Hickox returned to her home state. It was the town of Strong, in Franklin County, Maine, where an elementary teacher was told to stay home, and not come to work, because she had traveled to, wait for it, Texas, where Thomas Eric Duncan died of Ebola. This was the actual state of Maine deciding this. Needless to say, she went nowhere near the Dallas Presbyterian Hospital, nonetheless, no school for her. Of course, you can’t be too careful, right?

In Milford, Connecticut, the school district had decided to exclude from school a little 7-year-old girl because she had taken a trip to Nigeria with her family to be a flower girl at a relative’s wedding. Now remember, The WHO has gone out of their way to announce, at this time, that Nigeria is Ebola free. Sure, there are the wackos, WAY TOO MANY OF THEM, even educated wackos, who don’t believe anything they hear from government or officials, or health officials, or the CDC or the NIH. After all, they have plans to kill us all, right? RIGHT??!!! (Note: grab guns, run to shelter) This girl, who has never been sick, and never met a person with Ebola, and has never been to a country with Ebola patients, other than the United States, was being forced to stay home; but in this case, the family of this little girl decided to sue. They sued. The school acted quickly, and decided to settle, which included them publicly acknowledging that the 7-year-old is perfectly healthy, does not have Ebola, and does not pose a health risk to anyone. She was allowed to go back to school, today. Just in time for trick or treat.

Meanwhile, in Maine today, All Hallow’s Eve, Judge Charles C. LaVerdiere praised Kaci Hickox, the defiant and heroic nurse who went a bikeridin yesterday. Judge LaVerdiere ruled that, because she has no symptoms, Hickox should simply continue daily monitoring and coordinate travel with state officials. State police who have been monitoring her house, left her residence shortly after 12:30 p.m.

Hickox said that of course she is following the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations of daily monitoring for fever and other signs of the disease; however,

“I’m not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it’s not science-based.”

The legal action against Kaci Hickox by Maine’s health department and Governor was the nation’s biggest test case yet in the struggle to balance public health, and fear of Ebola, against personal freedom. In the court filing, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention backed away from the state’s original request for an in-home quarantine, and called instead for restrictions that fall in line with federal guidelines.

The history of fear driven, ignorant public health panics is a long one. It is not surprising that confronting something like Ebola has led to a bunch of irrational, inane knee jerk decisions. As of today, this week, we are continuing to make stupid decisions about public health, overriding, unnecessary decisions about public health. But we are also starting to push back. Former state health officers, along with the last two State Agent Epidemiologists from the great state of Maine, along with the head of the Maine Medical Association, have crafted a letter in protest which they presented to Governor La Page of Maine in response to his jumpiness and ignorant non fact based decision-making. The letter read,

“Ultimately, we need to be guided by science and not emotion. An epidemic of fear can be as dangerous as an epidemic with a virus.”

While it may be well intended, the actions against Kaci Hickox in Maine taken by the Governor have resulted in patients in Maine calling up the Northern Maine Medical Center and canceling appointments and procedures because of an unfounded fear that somehow having Kaci in the community has made their health care services unsafe. This chilling effect causes Maine residents to postpone their own health care needs, and that does much more harm than good. Every health care worker, everywhere, is being stigmatized by this treatment.

“If we quarantine every health care worker for 21 days who comes in contact with an Ebola patient, regardless of the science, we won’t have nearly enough infectious disease specialists and nurses to take care of people in Maine. Every day around the globe there are medical staff, based out of Maine, going to places under the worst imaginable conditions to take care of those in need, and we don’t want anything to discourage that. We need to help these West African nations control the epidemic. To make it any more difficult for these medical heroes, who take two weeks off to help people around the world, by making them take another 3 weeks off when they return…they just won’t go in the first place. Clearly, we don’t need this stigma placed on our brave and brightest when they are not the problem here. Our own elected officials, and many members of the public, are participating in vilifying these people, and it’s embarrassing.” ~~ Gordon Smith, Maine Medical Center

We are not saying that those showing symptoms shouldn’t be immediately quarantined safely. We are saying that in this situation, as it stands, with only two people contracting the disease in the U.S., both of which have recovered, we might just collectively want to take a deep breath. There are, in fact,patients across several states in the US who have recently come back from West Africa, and have fevers, and are being safely quarantined, treated, and monitored. None of them have tested positively for Ebola yet. But symptoms are symptoms and those quarantines not only makes sense, but they’re vital.

Stay with us daily as we report what we find, and vet what we can.

The Policy Geek

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