- - Tuesday, October 21, 2014


The Ebola threat seems to have subsided, and that’s cause for cautious relief. The operative word is “seems,” but three weeks have passed since an unemployed Liberian man flew into the United States and infected two health care workers with the deadly virus. Medical authorities say that’s time enough to conclude that Thomas Eric Duncan did not spread the disease to others.

What’s more, the fear epidemic has subsided, too, with no thanks to the White House, which has inspired little confidence in its ability to contain the deadly virus. “The dangers of a serious outbreak are extraordinarily low,” says President Obama, “but we are taking this very seriously at the highest levels of government.” His idea of a serious response is appointing Joe Biden’s chief of staff to coordinate the national response.

Covering up for vice presidential gaffes qualifies Ron Klain as a certain kind of disaster expert, we suppose, but he’s a lawyer, not a doctor or epidemiologist. The White House wants Mr. Klain as “Ebola czar” because of his sterling credentials in lobbying. “He is somebody that has strong relationships with members of Congress,” says White House spokesman Josh Earnest, “and obviously strong relationships with those of us who worked with him here at the White House earlier in the administration. All of that means he is the right person for the job.”

“All of that” says that the administration regards Ebola more as a challenge to politics than to public health. That’s exactly the attitude that got us into trouble in the first place.

Ebola has infected 9,178 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, yet the administration, in an expression of political correctness, refused to say “no” when a Liberian citizen at high risk of exposure to the disease wanted to visit a friend in the United States. The administration continues to dig in, refusing to block unnecessary travel. Jeh Johnson, secretary of homeland security, announced Tuesday that flights from the afflicted West African countries will be allowed to land only at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York; Newark, N.J.; Washington Dulles International Airport; Atlanta; and Chicago. Transportation Security Administration agents have been trained in those places to take the temperature of passengers.

That’s less here than meets the jaundiced eye. Ninety-four percent of flights from West Africa already land at these airports. The top priority at the White House is to make sure that nobody in other countries is inconvenienced. The inconvenience is diverted to Americans.

Nina Pham, one of the nurses who cared for Mr. Duncan, is in “fair condition” at Bethesda’s National Institutes of Health. Another nurse, Amber Vinson, is being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Both are fighting for their lives. Almost 50 others have been confined to their homes, frightening neighbors, friends and family.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) clearly underestimated the seriousness of the disease. The precautions taken at the Dallas hospital that treated Mr. Duncan were insufficient because federal officials downplayed the risks. Everyone who came into contact with the Liberian patient was told not to worry. Miss Vinson took CDC officials at their word and flew to Cleveland before she showed symptoms of the disease. “Before traveling,” a family spokesman said, “Amber, working through her Texas Health Resources Presbyterian Hospital assistant manager, contacted the CDC and was fully cleared for travel.”

The CDC’s advice was more grounded in politics than medicine. That’s a problem that a political insider like Ron Klain isn’t qualified to fix.

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