Type to search

Freaking Out About Ebola Isn’t Helping

Memo Pad Politics

Freaking Out About Ebola Isn’t Helping


One afternoon two weeks ago, I did my best to calm a friend who’d become fearful that her son would contract Ebola in Syria. The young man had enlisted in the National Guard. She knew the U.S. was bombing ISIS terrorists there, and that people were talking about “boots on the ground.” She thought she’d heard about a Syrian Ebola outbreak on TV.

Because others were listening, I didn’t want to embarrass her. I suggested she’d misheard a reference to Sierra Leone, a tiny country in the tropical forest of West Africa where the Ebola epidemic rages — thousands of miles from Syria, which borders on Israel. The road to Damascus and all that.

The Bible reference helped. A guy in a John Deere cap backed me up. Syria was definitely not in Africa. My friend was mollified.

I’m sure she’s heard plenty more about Ebola since then, possibly even about Sierra Leone, a nation of which most Americans have zero knowledge. A lifelong map nut, I’d have had to search for it myself.

Although my friend is an intelligent person with a lively wit, it wasn’t her ignorance of geography I found so surprising. After all, polls showed only 17 percent of Americans could locate Iraq on a map back when the U.S. invaded in 2003. Rather, it was her unreasoning dread of Ebola, a tropical disease wholly limited at that time to three countries in West Africa.

Now that a single Ebola victim from neighboring Liberia has made his way to Dallas, isn’t that fear more justifiable? Shouldn’t we be running around with our hair on fire like the talking heads on cable TV? Isn’t it time for our government to do something drastic, such as banning all travel from West Africa to prevent Ebola-stricken refugees from bringing this terrifying plague to America?

Actually, no and no. Freaking out never helps when there’s real danger. For once, I felt sympathetic toward Gov. Rick Perry, who, because the Liberian victim ended up at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas, was compelled to act like a competent government official instead of a carnival barker.

“Rest assured that our system is working as it should,” Perry said during a hospital press conference. “Professionals on every level of the chain of command know what to do to minimize this potential risk to the people of Texas and this country.”

Of course that wasn’t strictly true. Due to a communications snafu too common in hospitals, the first physician who examined the victim wasn’t told he’d traveled from Liberia, misread the chart, and bungled the diagnosis.

But that still doesn’t mean the sky is falling. Medical experts agree that while deadly in Third World environments, Ebola is both treatable and relatively hard to catch. Patients aren’t contagious until they’re visibly ill. Even then direct contact with a symptomatic person’s bodily fluids — saliva, vomit, stool, urine, etc. — is necessary. Unlike a cold, it can’t be transmitted through the air.

Writing in The New Yorkerbrilliant surgeon and author Atul Gawande documents a South African case in which some 300 hospital workers treated an undiagnosed Ebola patient for 12 days without contracting the disease.

Isolate patients, monitor their intimate contacts, dispose of their waste properly, and Ebola can be stopped. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) the likelihood of a mass Ebola outbreak in the United States is remote.

Perhaps that makes the disgraceful performance of so many self-styled “conservative” pundits and GOP politicians a bit less disturbing. Going all Chicken Little and doing everything possible to use a public health crisis for partisan ends would be even more contemptible if the danger were as great as they pretend.

As usual, Fox News personalities led the charge. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee sought to use Ebola to foment petulant mistrust of government in general and President Obama in particular.

It all somehow reminded him of Benghazi.

“The Ebola scare,” Huckabee claimed “goes to the heart of a simple question: do you trust the government. Audience, do you trust the government?”

Fox News and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham hosted crank medical conspiracy theorist Dr. Elizabeth Vliet, who accused Obama of downplaying Ebola for political reasons. Rush Limbaugh suggested that the president sees Ebola as a punishment for slavery, and won’t ban travel to and from West Africa out of political correctness.

Several GOP politicians, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have suggested basically quarantining entire countries, a “solution” that sounds sensible until you think about it for 30 seconds.

For example, would that mean volunteer doctors, nurses, missionaries and soldiers couldn’t come home? And then what? A catastrophically worsening epidemic in Africa, that’s what.

I’ll say this too: If Ebola were happening, in say, Denmark or Belgium, we’d be having a far saner conversation.

But then it couldn’t, which is part of the point.

AFP Photo/Jewel Samad

Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate. A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows. Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

  • 1


  1. gmccpa October 8, 2014

    The RW’s hysteria about Ebola….has nothing to do with the disease itself. Its merely another chance to frenzy up their simple minded base against Pres Obama. And if it happened in a state other than Texas, Rick Perry would be right there with them.

    1. joe schmo October 8, 2014

      Right along with your hysteria about Global Warming, Gay Rights, Civil Rights etc….. and higher taxes for the wealthy….. Get off it and see it for what it could be…. a huge problem in the making…..

      1. Sand_Cat October 8, 2014

        Once again Joe, you project your own failings and delusions on the rational. No one but you and your friends is “hysterical” about ANY of the topics you mentioned.

        1. joe schmo October 8, 2014

          LOL….yah, the rational who have no common sense….

  2. ps0rjl October 8, 2014

    This crisis just points out that tactics such as quarantining an entire region or country wont work now. IT may have worked 100 years ago but with globalization it is impossible to contain. The solution is to find a cure and go to the countries in Africa affected and stop it there. People like Todd Kincanon, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News’ Laura Ingraham need to quit scaring people with their “The sky is falling!” outbursts.

    1. joe schmo October 8, 2014

      The notion of Globalization is your problem, you started it. Aren’t you happily proclaiming with your lord and savior, ‘we are the people of the world.’ Well go stuff yourself. I think God is beginning to get even……LOL

      1. Sand_Cat October 8, 2014

        Wow, once again you advertise what a complete ASS you are! And who is our “lord and savior”? Can’t be as bad as the Mitwit, or any other GOP operative, for that matter.

        1. joe schmo October 8, 2014

          Oh, I think you damn well know who the loser is. You know the guy that has the lowest approval rating of any president in modern history. I believe Mitt would have run circles around Obama…., but alas he was too much of a stand up guy to vulture Obama’s attacks.

          Keep up the decadence….God always rights the wrongs humans seem to create…. It’s already happening…..

  3. FT66 October 8, 2014

    It is sad the Ebola patient who came from West Africa to Dallas has passed away. I know a lot of fear will now go around especially those who were in contact with him. This is the time for whoever is in power to calm everyone down. Unfortunately, this is happening at a season when the flu comes and kills a lot of people year after year. And at a time when it has been reported young kids are becoming sick. I am not aware where this name “EBOLA” came from. Is it the first of its kind of such a disease showing up? I do not think so. And if not, why didn’t WHO prepare medicine for a such a disease? I do also disagree on a ban for all flights from West Africa to US. Here is why: you can ban those flights, BUT what about anyone going out of the country to different places of the world where the ban doesn’t apply. God for bid, can’t they get a disease there and bring it back home???

  4. joe schmo October 8, 2014

    Ever heard of the say, ‘better to be safe than sorry?’ Guess not.

    When it comes to the environment, gay rights, gun control, and civil rights, you Liberals are all on board screaming, ‘the sky is falling,’ ‘the sky is falling.’

    However, when the conservatives voice an opinion, and rightfully so, about what may raise a concern on our shores, you take the global approach stating nothing can possibly happen here. Typical LaLaLand ideology. You have more regard for what you feel is politically correct than you have for the safety and welfare of this Nation. This only proves one thing to me, just how un-American you have become.

    In the time of the Bible were the lepers allowed to live and commune all over the Middle East? Of course not. They were isolated. This sentence is where it really hits home.

    “Isolate patients, monitor their intimate contacts, dispose of their
    waste properly, and Ebola can be stopped. According to the CDC (Centers
    for Disease Control and Prevention) (Just like Homeland Security, can I really trust them? Hell no) the likelihood of a mass Ebola
    outbreak in the United States is remote.”

    ‘Isolate patients!’ Really! Citizens or no citizen, these infected individuals have been taken to hospitals all over the U.S. for treatment. I believe they should be maintained in one facility and specifically a medical center that isn’t around a major populous.

    Hypocrites each and every one of you.

    1. Sand_Cat October 8, 2014

      Yeah, we’ve been saying it for years about global warming, but guess who’s been poo-poooing it? As usual, you’re miles off base.
      I should have known I’d see you on this clown car. Think of the bright side: maybe some of the employees of George Soros’s Spanish company that stole the election for Obama have traveled to west Africa and are now dying of Ebola. Maybe all of Western Europe can be wiped out, preventing it from being a thorn in the side of the GOP by showing how government run by sane adults can take care of its citizens when necessary rather than saying “let ’em eat [shit]” as US Republican governments do.

      1. joe schmo October 8, 2014

        Of course, funny you would bring that up, takes one to know one:)

        As usual I’m right on the mark!

        George Soros and his ilk, part of the world order or trilateral would never see his people or himself sacrificed for the sake of the little people…..LOL

        You mean the Europe you sooooo aspire to. I can remember a time when Europe wanted nothing but to be like the U.S. Now we want to be like them? My family left Europe for a reason. You don’t know a damn thing about what you are talking about. No thanks, I know too much about Europe and it ‘ain’t’ no USA. I don’t recall that Europe was ever a thorn in the side of the GOP? Now Russia, it is a thorn in the side of Europe. Europe is cowering too much in the direction of American media. Besides Russia practically controls them because of that dreaded pipeline…..and, according to family over there, that makes them quite mad.

    2. J Lin October 14, 2014

      Actually it is because closing borders will not only not do a damn thing about Ebola, all it does is send the economy into a depression and the world into an unneeded panic.

      We know enough about Ebola to keep it from being a pandemic in the U.S. In fact Africa would have been fine too if they were prepared for Ebola like the Republic of Congo. However no, they didn’t anticipate the outbreak and didn’t handle it properly when it did happen. Texas also screwed up handling the patient or else it wouldn’t even have been transmitted to the nurse.

      Ebola isn’t that easy to spread, there is a limited time where it is infectious, and then only through body fluid exchange usually through the mucus membrane. Those who care for the patient are at higher risk, but the general public is not even close to coming into contact with Ebola. So take your fear mongering and ignorance elsewhere.

      Also if you think there is a medical center with the proper equipment to treat and care for Ebola patients that isn’t around a major city, that medical facility does not exist. Feel free to build one if you feel that is so easy.

      You are the one living in Lalaland if you can’t even be bothered to learn a bit about the thing you are scared of before spreading that fear, in a sense you are worse than Ebola.

      The right always bitch about leadership, yeah we are taking the lead by not shutting down borders like idiots and by not overreacting to situations with the most extreme response. Let’s say it this way, if the CDC is right about ebola, would you trust them in the future? Facts don’t matter to you, and that is why what you say doesn’t matter.

  5. Axle Rows October 8, 2014

    If democrats are willing to force you to buy health insurance, is there anything they aren’t willing to force you to do?

    1. Sand_Cat October 8, 2014


      1. joe schmo October 9, 2014

        Axie is so on the mark. Just heard that when a reporter asked Harry Reid where he got his money (you know one of the new !% that doesn’t have to earn it or spread the wealth), his security guard slammed the poor reporter up against the wall. Lies and deceit, deceit and lies…… I rest my case.

    2. kenndeb October 10, 2014

      Liberals will do ANYTHING to further their agenda of fundamentally transforming our country into a communist police state, with them in charge, of course. With the Emperor elevating lying to an art form, what can we expect? Anyone that believes anything from this regime is a fool. Try thinking for yourselves, instead of believing everything that the regime tells you to think. This will be another possible reason for the Emperor to call for martial law, and take power for himself.

  6. Mary Rickel October 9, 2014

    Remember this from Franklin Roosevelt – “we have nothing to fear, but, fear itself”. I try and keep that attitude and think for myself. I don’t need a bunch of Fox fear mongers to think for me. Think things out, instead of listening to a bunch of nonsense. Thank you for listening.

  7. Amy Dunne October 13, 2014

    Should not the primary architect of Obamacare, Bolshevik ideologue Ezekiel Emanuel, be charged with murder?


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.