This time Ebola didn’t arrive in a specially-designed, hermetically-sealed aircraft, transferred to a space-age ambulance, tended by white space-suited attendants, and delivered to the most secure isolation wing at an Atlanta hospital. This time it didn’t arrive with the press watching every move, and pundits questioning the wisdom of bringing Dr. Brantly back home.
What could rightly be described as Patient Zero on U.S. soil arrived in Dallas, and is being held in isolation at Texas Presbyterian Hospital.
CNBC confirms that the CDC has found the patient to test positive for the Ebola virus. This is the first case of the virus that has been diagnosed on U.S. soil, though American citizens who were diagnosed with the virus in west Africa have returned for medical attention to the continental United States and recovered.
Ebola is completely out of control in West Africa, with Liberia as the epicenter. Yet Americans still travel there for various reasons, mostly humanitarian. I understand that many Christians are called to help the least fortunate people in the world, and I understand that the call of God to go to these places should be irresistible to those who hear and follow. When Dr. Kent Brantly was brought to Atlanta, I defended him, Samaritan’s Purse, and believers in general when Ann Coulter accused them of being idiotic.
I haven’t changed my position on that particular decision, but I have formed a new one about Liberia. Enough is enough. The U.S. government has the power to ban travel to a foreign country, especially where a dread disease is in danger of spreading worldwide. I checked the State Department’s website, and found no mention of Liberia on the front page. On the bottom left, there’s a small slug “fighting the Ebola virus”, and a further link to the Liberia Travel Warning, advising us not to go there for non-essential travel.
That’s not nearly enough.
At this point, the warning should be that anyone who enters Liberia or Sierra Leone will not be permitted entry into the United States, or on any flight that continues to the United States. The CDC has not released the gender, race, age, travel history, or other details about the infected person. I’m all for preventing a panic, but a panic is what we will get if we don’t get this situation in hand quickly.
The first step in that process is keeping those who go to Liberia from returning until we identify those who could potentially spread this disease inside our shores. We can’t take this step soon enough, for my peace of mind, and everyone I know who flies commercially.
It’s time for the State Department to ban travel to Liberia, and that means today.
UPDATE: We know slightly more about U.S. Ebola Patient Zero. We know the gender: male. We know he was in Liberia. We know he didn’t show symptoms when he arrived in the U.S. Erick Erickson published some unconfirmed information from someone who called him claiming to be from the CDC, after fact-checking made it likely the source was genuine. This included his flight path, from Liberia through Brussels into the U.S. through Dulles. And his treatment timeline, starting with a September 24 emergency room visit.
None of this information makes me more confident that we can effectively screen out Ebola from our country while allowing more travelers in from Liberia. At least, we should have a quarantine period, a week or two would do, before we allow anyone who’s been in Liberia into the country. An outright ban is preferable to me, and given the relatively low number of people this would affect, it seems appropriate.