the fault in our stars

The Fault in Our SARS (and Ebola)

As predicted in last week’s post, the true magnitude of the current Ebola epidemic – as it related to potential spreading in America – turned out to be somewhere between pants-shitting exponential growth feared by some, and the tidy, clean finish where all risk, panic, and fear would be put to rest along with Thomas Eric Duncan that was smugly expected by others.

Granted, all scientific evidence and history points to the latter group being much closer to the proper level of concern.  This is a relatively difficult disease to contract, and with proper precautions taken by a responsible and thorough medical staff and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the odds of anyone contracting Ebola stateside were almost nil.

Almost.  What unfolded in the last eight days has shown that the dismissive types were perhaps somewhat naïve in their own way.  Two health care workers have tested positive for Ebola; while it is entirely possible that there won’t be a third, the potential seems higher now than it did a week ago.  Those that placed unwavering faith in “the experts” to handle the situation properly have been forced to circle back and admit their confidence (which in some bordered on dismissive arrogance) was not entirely substantiated.

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With the possible exception of the military – where extensive, intense training is centered on performing your task perfectly every time, lest your brothers in arms perish should you fail to – it is almost a certainty that any operation involving a large amount of people attempting to work in concert on short notice will result in a spectacular clusterfuck.

Think back to your high school graduation.  Whether you had a class of 50 or 500, try to imagine all your fellow seniors at once.  Are there any you would trust with your life in an emergency?  Can you identify a group of ten you would entrust to work together for the same purpose?

Probably not.  You’re probably picturing a whole lot of people who, just like yourself, are flawed individuals who don’t hit a home run every time they step to the plate.  Understand, now, that these people are the experts and the first responders; the people you’ve indirectly but categorically trusted to sweep the threat aside come from the same pool of everyday human beings that you did.  Is it really that shocking that one or more of them might fuck up – with potentially grave consequences?

In addition to the element of human error, a threat with the gravity of Ebola infections pulls multiple organizations into the fray, including government organizations that don’t exactly have a track record of excellence and expedience – just ask a veteran.

Already, the hospital administration in Dallas where the infected nurses worked has issued an apology for not handling the patient properly.  The Director of the CDC has stated that the second nurse to test positive shouldn’t have traveled on a commercial flight, though at the same time another CDC official confirmed she called the organization to clarify if she could, and was given a green light to do so.  The Dallas hospital also confirmed that no one at the CDC instructed the involved health care providers to avoid travel in any way.

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Any entity the size of the CDC will face difficulty ensuring one correct, consistent message is conveyed.  Exacerbating that challenge, any organization, corporate or civil, will have positions all over the organizational chart occupied by people that don’t deserve to be there.  Just because an agency like the CDC is entrusted with the arguably most important role of any in our government – keep us from dying at the hands of communicable disease – it doesn’t mean they are any more likely to be meritocracy than a Fortune 500 company.

Added together, you have a reasonable basis for never categorically assuming the potential spread of an oft-fatal communicable disease is a non-issue.  When stakes are that high and involvement spreads that wide, there will be mistakes.  While that doesn’t mean we should seal ourselves in our zombie bunkers, it’s a good reason to keep educating yourself and keep an eye on how the situation unfolds.

Oh, and wash your hands.

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