There is no Ebola “crisis” in New York City

Let’s start with a prediction– not one additional American will contract Ebola because NYC doctor Craig Spencer has.  We are talking about a single person who has taken all the proper steps (he knows exactly what to do, he was working for Doctors without Borders in Africa) to prevent spreading infection.  Furthermore, whatever systemic mistakes led to the two nurse infections in Dallas, will likely be learned from.  Also, those two Dallas nurses are both on the road to recovery and it is now quite unlikely they have infected anyone else.  A single person with a not very communicable disease (it’s just not when proper precautions are taken) is not a crisis just because it is in New York City.  Now, Liberia, there’s a crisis for you (though I understand that in Liberia you are still far more likely to die from many more prosaic diseases).  I get that this is a big story, but I just hate the freak out.  I swear, it’s human nature at it’s worst.

As always, some nice perspective from Jon Cohn:

Spencer spent time with his fiancée and two friends. And on Wednesday, despite feeling a little sluggish, he went bowling in Brooklyn, using the subway to get there and an Uber car to get back. The next day he started running a feverof 103 degrees.

Those details, as much as the diagnosis itself, were getting tons of attention on Thursday night. This morning, New Yorkers are busy retracing their steps, wondering if they were on the number one, the A, or the Lthe three subway lines Spencer apparently took. That’s understandable. Ebola is a scary, frequently lethal disease.

But you can only get it one wayby coming into contact with bodily fluids from somebody who is showing symptoms like fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. New York City officials said that Spencer did not have such symptoms when he was out and about on Wednesday. That’s why the public health experts I consulted on Thursday were convinced that his travels posed little, if any, danger to the broader public. “Minimal to no risk” is the phrase one used. [emphasis mine]

Oh, I’ll also mention that the tremendous and selfless work of Doctors without Borders (or Médecins Sans Frontières as they are properly called) is why I donate to them automatically out of every single paycheck.  

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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