This week, I read the two best pieces on Ebola yet written. One was in The Washington Post by Ruth Marcus and the other in The New York Times by Frank Bruni. The message in both articles: avert your eyes from the All Ebola All The Time news coverage and focus on something that is a real threat to you—and go get a flu shot.
New polls say that a big majority of Americans see Ebola as a major health threat to them personally. This is backed up anecdotally by conversations I have had with various folks. I do not mean to discount Ebola as a public health problem; it certainly is that. But the press coverage, and much of the political discussion about it, has not been constructive. The chances you or I will get Ebola are infinitesimal. The chances of dying from it are even smaller. Can’t say that about the flu.
You can’t turn on CNN, in particular, without wall-to-wall Ebola coverage. Perhaps worse than the actual stories and interviews have been the crawl and headings on the bottom of the screen. Ebola Patient Flew! Bedding of Ebola Patient Not Changed Yet! And so on. No context. Ebola is a scary disease and those who gain attention by scaring people are taking full advantage.
The fact you can’t get Ebola from sitting next to someone with no symptoms. Who cares? The fact there are no flights from the three most impacted nations (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone)? Let’s ban ‘em anyway.
How about we draw a curtain, or better yet, build a wall (figuratively, one supposes) around those three countries and around the region? What could possibly go wrong? Cordon them off, write a check and then walk away. Places treated that way can be breeding grounds not just for disease but for radical ideologies. But no one focuses on that!
What the Ebola issue demands is calm, reasoned, useful information. From the media and from our public leaders. We do not need to see “Breaking News” that someone got sick on a plane every time that happens. Usually with pictures of a plane sitting on a tarmac. We do not need to talk about banning flights that do not even exist. We need to tell people what Ebola is, how one gets it, what to look for, and then get on with our lives.
We need a comprehensive effort to contain and defeat Ebola where it resides. That is not achieved by drawing a curtain around the place or banning travel. People will get around whatever bans are in place. If the disease isn’t defeated there, it will spread. The real threat to Americans is not someone flying on a domestic trip right now. The real threat will come if the disease is not contained and defeated in West Africa.