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Ebola Hysteria Hits a New Level

But you don't need a hazmat suit to travel

Getty Images/Nicholas Kamm

On Thursday, the Ebola crisis took center stage before the House Energy and Commerce Committee where Dr. Thomas Frieden, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other health care officials testified about ongoing efforts to combat the disease in the United States.

Committee members often used the hearing to grandstand, as they are wont to do, but we also learned some new details about the outbreak. For instance, lawmakers questioned Frieden about why the second health care worker who was infected with Ebola, Amber Vinson, was allowed to travel from Cleveland to Dallas with a slight fever, even though she had contacted CDC before doing so. Frieden said he was not involved in that conversation, but that Vinson did not report any symptoms to the agency.

Republicans spent a large portion of the hearing demanding a travel ban to and from the three West  African countries being ravaged by the disease—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. As QED’s Jonathan Cohn has explained, it’s not a crazy idea, but right now, most of the public health community feels it would cause more harm than good. President Obama echoed that belief in the Oval Office Thursday night.  “I don’t have a philosophical objection necessarily to a travel ban if that is the thing that is going to keep the American people safe,” he said. “The problem is, is that in all the discussions I’ve had thus far with experts in the field—experts in infectious disease—is that a travel ban is less effective than the measures that we are currently instituting.”

Republicans have also called on Obama to appoint an Ebola Czar to oversee the entire response to the disease. The president said he was open to it, since top health officials will soon have to contend with flu season in addition to Ebola, but that he was not going to do so yet.

Health officials will continue to monitor everyone who came near the two healthcare workers infected with Ebola. That includes close to 50 healthcare workers in Dallas, as well as those who were travelling by air with Vinson. Late Thursday, CDC announced that it would be tracking down passengers from both Frontier flights Vinson had taken, not just the return to Dallas, because she might have had symptoms earlier than was first reported. This is being done “out of an abundance of caution.”

The two Texas Presbyterian nurses are now at special biocontainment units—Vinson at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and Nina Pham, the first healthcare worker diagnosed, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. And while it seems clear that the Dallas hospital and CDC have both made mistakes in the past weeks, there are signs that health officials are quickly learning from these mistakes and adjusting their protocols to ensure they don’t repeat them. CDC, for example, has learned to dispatch infection control officers quicker to hospitals with infected patients. They will undoubtedly now put tighter travel restrictions on people they are monitoring too.

Americans are understandably unnerved by these developments and fears seemed to be heightened on Thursday. The New Republic’s Claire Groden rounded up some of the most prominent signs of panic, including school closures in Cleveland and Texas and a woman at Dulles International Airport in a homemade hazmat suit. But what was true before is true now: Ebola only spreads through direct contact of bodily fluids. People infected with the disease are only contagious when they are displaying symptoms. If you want a three-minute, sober assessment for why you shouldn’t fear Ebola, Sheppard Smith explained it perfectly on Fox News. Yes, Fox News—for once, it got it right.

Danny Vinik

News from Thursday:

ECONOMY: Despite concerns over a recession in Europe, an economic slowdown in China, and global threats like ISIS and Ebola, economists maintain high forecasts for the U.S. economy. (Paul Wiseman, Associated Press)

APPLE: Meet the latest, greatest iPads, the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3, or, also known as the things you’ll choose between when you’re buying your kids’ Christmas presents this year. (Brian X. Chen, New York Times)

Articles worth reading:

Correction of the day: Tommy Craggs of Deadspin apologized for an article that tried to take down Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner for what they thought was a false claim to playing football in high school. Turns out, their source just forgot that Gardner was on the team.

Deja vu? Radio Iowa released a recording of Republican Senate candidate Jodi Ernst sounding a lot like Mitt Romney when he committed his 47% gaffe. She criticized a culture in which people “rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them.” (Greg Sargent, Washington Post)

Can you see 100 years into the future: David Roberts explains why he's skeptical of the accuracy of new reports that forecast how climate change mitigation will cost the economy in the next 50-100 years, because economists generally don't know what the baseline economy will look like, at all.

Long Read of the Day: Mother Jones ran an excerpt from Ted Genoways’s upcoming book The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food that examines a PETA investigation into a pork farm where animal abuse was routine.

We've reached Peak Cable: Both HBO and CBS announced Tuesday that they would offer stand-alone streaming options conttent (except NFL games on CBS). Get ready for many more people to cut the cord. (Derek Thompson, The Atlantic)

Stories we’re watching:



Rebecca Leber and our own Brian Beutler’s dad, Dr. Steven Beutler, weigh in on quarantining Ebola patients in America. Meanwhile, Danny Vinik goes beyond the awkward fan situation at Wednesday night’s Florida gubernatorial debate to show the answer that should truly embarrass Governor Rick Scott.

Links compiled by Claire Groden and Naomi Shavin.