White House continues to pushback on calls for Ebola travel ban

ebola smoke screenFor reasons that are not entirely clear, but seem to have more to do with ego than anything else, the administration has dug in it s heels on the issue of a travel ban affecting nations with active Ebola outbreaks.


Over the weekend, they enlisted baseball analyst, poll analyst, and erstwhile shill, Nate Silver, to make the case that a travel ban could not work because people could evade the few direct flights from West Africa to the United States. For Silver’s analysis to make any sense whatsoever you have to ignore the fact that international travelers have passports AND that most airlines are already curtailing travel from affected nations and travel of nationals from those nations.

Concurrently The Daily Beast posted a story by someone named Abby Haglage, titled They May Sound Like a Good Idea, But Travel Bans for Ebola Won’t Work. Miss Hagalage,based on an English degree from Miami Univeristy, covers infectious diseases for The Daily Beast. Contemplate that information for a moment before proceeding.

This essay is notable for two points. First, as a presumed representative of the “reality based community” Miss Haglage put herself in the position of rejected actual, provable reality. There are extensive travel bans already in place against countries with an Ebola outbreak and those bans are being credited with stopping the spread. For instance, this headline from ABC News: Africa Stems Ebola Via Border Closings, Luck.

Officials credit tighter border controls, good patient-tracking and other medical practices, and just plain luck with keeping Ebola confined mostly to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since the outbreak was first identified nearly seven months ago.



Second, she compares the proposed travel ban in response to Ebola with the previous travel ban on people with AIDS to show how a ban would not work.

Even an English major from Miami University should be able to see the difference between Ebola and AIDS and why a travel ban for one would be inappropriate but very appropriate for the other. But, just in case it isn’t when everything is viewed through a prism of racism and class grievance, lets lay them out.

1. Transmission. To many of us getting thrown up on by someone bleeding from every orifice is a memorable event. Even for people who think being buggered by some muscular guy in ass-less chaps and a Greek fisherman’s hat is normal this would stand out as unusual. While our government is fond of saying (truthfully) that you can’t catch Ebola through “casual contact,” what they skip over is that your non-casual encounter with an infected person can easily result in infection. It is generally believed that the man who died in Dallas caught it by sharing a cab ride with a woman who had Ebola and she vomited on him.

2. Incubation period. For many people with an HIV infection they remain asymptomatic for years. Not so much with Ebola. What a travel ban does for reducing the spread of Ebola is that it stretches out the length of time it takes someone to make a journey so their symptoms become more evident to themselves and everyone else.


3. Geographic focus. An Ebola travel ban would only effect three or so nations in West Africa. Those nations have airports, seaports, and border crossings that can be monitored. Their nationals have passports. For their nationals to travel to most nations they need travel visas. This makes it much easier to impose a ban than relying upon individuals to self-identify as having HIV/AIDS… and in many cases no knowing they have the disease. In fact, what the Obama administration seems intent upon replicating is a system that failed to address the spread of HIV/AIDS.

4. Visible symptoms. People infected with HIV/AIDS don’t manifest visual symptoms for quite a while after they are able to transmit the disease. Not so with Ebola.

The fact that standard epidemiological procedures did not work with HIV/AIDS is because there was more concern for the “stigma” of having AIDS than for the victims being endangered. Unlike with syphilis, or gonorrhea, or tuberculosis, AIDS carriers were not subjected to contact tracing or legal quarantine.

Just because a travel ban on a disease with no geographic focus, no immediate symptoms, a long incubation period, and which spread via sexual contact didn’t work is no evidence that a travel ban on a disease with a specific geographic focus, spectacular symptoms, short incubation period, and spread via involuntary contact is not a good policy.


What the administration is trying to do is launch two attacks of the idea of travel bans. First, that they don’t work and even if we imposed one it wouldn’t help. This is false and its falsity is demonstrated by the fact that extensive bans are in effect today, by virtually every nation except the United States, and acknowledgement that they work. Beyond that, quarantine of people and areas is a bedrock principle of controlling epidemics. It works every time it is tried because diseases are not spread by magic.

Secondly, the administration is trying to make concern about Ebola a symptom of racism or “homophobia”. Miss Haglage has already done so in another article. Ebola has nothing to do with race. Ebola is not even remotely comparable to HIV/AIDS. Ebola is a deadly infectious disease that can be contained by tried and true methods and there is no reason for the United States to not use those methods.




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