The first case of Ebola in New York was made official on Thursday Oct. 23, 2014, with the positive test of a Doctors Without Borders doctor Craig Spencer, 33 who had just returned from Guinea a week before. His diagnosis got Americans angry and raised questions why are these doctor’s putting the public at risk upon their return in the name of living their daily lives. The two states most closely involved, New York and New Jersey instituted on Friday, Oct. 24 a mandatory 21-day quarantine for all health care workers returning from the West African countries most affected by the outbreak. Meanwhile President Barack is trying to make light of the disease by meeting and hugging Ebola survivors and spending his weekly addresses trying to debunk myths, because the disease is becoming a midterm election issue.
The question remains why President Obama, the government and these health care workers pretending that this disease that has reached over 10,000 cases in West Africa is nothing Americans should worry about, why are they continually jeopardizing and putting Americans lives at risk?
In the day prior to positive test Spencer, went out all over New York, jogging in a busy park, bowling, riding subways, eating out with friend and his fiancée, all while feeling the first symptoms of weakness and muscle pains. It is was only when his fever reach to 100.3 degrees did he contact Doctors Without Borders and then was rushed by ambulance, where he has been put in isolation at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan.
In law, professionals within their field have a greater burden and higher standard of duty of care when it comes to negligence. Spencer was a doctor who had been specializing in treating Ebola, he knew all the risks and that he himself could possibly contract the disease from his extreme exposure he had while treating patients in a West African hot spot Guinea. Spencer knew the early symptoms, and based on his exposure, knew when he had them he should stay home, and monitor himself. Instead knowing he had early symptoms decided to live up his last day before being sick, and at the same time exposing others by sweating with his jogging and bowling, eating out in a restaurant, and riding in very close proximity in New York’s crowded subways. Still authorities are saying there is nothing to be worried about with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declaring at a press conference Friday afternoon that “There is no cause for alarm. There is no reason for New Yorkers to change their routines in any way.”
At the same time despite Spencer’s negligence that could possibly infect others, he is being hailed as a saint for his work in Africa, and as responsible despite his behavior that obviously seems careless at best and malicious at the worst. New York Presbyterian Hospital, where Spencer is a fellow in international emergency medicine also issued a glowing statement; “He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first. He has not been to work at our hospital and has not seen any patients at our hospital since his return from overseas.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also praised Spencer saying on NBC’s Today Show Friday morning; “This is a doctor who’s taking his temperature twice a day and obviously concluded that he was not symptomatic, and that’s why he went out, still in a limited way. He went bowling with two friends. He was with his fiancée and he took the subway. As soon as he had a fever, he presented himself to the hospital. All of the procedures thereon were exactly according to the book.”
President Obama also continues to make light of the Ebola crisis in the country. On Friday, Oct. 24 he met in the Oval office and hugged Nina Pham, 26 one of the two Texas nurses that contracted Ebola from Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan. Pham had been just been released from the National Institute of Health (NIH) with a press conference, expressing that “I feel fortunate and blessed to be standing here today.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated in his daily press briefing on Friday that her recovery proves “We do have the best medical infrastructure in the world.”
Pham and Amber Vinson, 29 caught the disease at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas from treating Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who first brought the disease to the United States and died on Oct. 8, 2014. Vinson who is still hospitalized at Emory University Hospital despite taking a test that turned out to be negative, showing she no longer has the disease in her system. Spencer was not the first health care worker exposed to Ebola that has acted careless, putting others at risk of infection. The CDC allowed Vinson to fly to and from Dallas to Cleveland for a weekend visit even though she was already experiencing symptoms and had a mild fever on her return trip, and a lab worker fell ill but not with Ebola, on a Carnival cruise ship heading to Belize that was forced to return to Texas last weekend.
Although Coumo praised Spencer in the morning by the afternoon, he and New Jersey governor Chris Christie announced mandatory quarantines for medical professionals and anybody else who had been in contact with Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea. Cuomo stated at the press conference “Our region is a dense region. A ride on a train can affect hundreds of people. Several weeks of normal activity can affect several thousand individuals.” Cuomo also explained what the new rules would entail; “Depending on the risk level, a person could require mandatory 21-day quarantine, or at a government-regulated facility. Low-risk would be regularly monitored for temperature and symptoms. Others will have a protocol developed to fit their particular circumstances.” Christie in his remarks added “By demanding these enhanced measures, we are ensuring that any suspected cases are identified quickly and effectively, and that proper safeguards are executed.” Those in the medical professional have been objecting to the new rules.
Republicans have been calling for a travel ban from West African countries; they have an online petition which so far has a measly 6342 signatures. Three Republican Congressman are even planning to introduce legislation aimed at banning the issuing travel visas to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and any other country that might see an outbreak of the disease. There will be two bills introduced, one a partnership of two representatives from Texas, Kenny Marchant and Sam Johnson, and a separate one by Rep. Dennis Ross, R-FL. President Obama and the CDC oppose a travel ban.
President Obama used his second weekly address in row on Saturday, Oct. 25 to debunk the myths about the disease in the country. In the address, entitled “Focused on the Fight Against Ebola” Obama updated the nation about what is happening with the disease in the country and the new case in New York. He discussed how the patients with it are doing, the administration’s and CDC’s protocols regarding those entering the US from the affected countries, which includes stricter monitoring, and new guidelines for health care workers treating the disease, and the creation of quick response medical teams. The president also reiterated how difficult it is to catch the disease, he cited the fact that Duncan’s family who had been in close proximity treating him while he was sick, yet they did not catch it.
Obama concluded his address, stating; “Here’s the bottom line. Patients can beat this disease. And we can beat this disease. But we have to stay vigilant. We have to work together at every level-federal, state and local. And we have to keep leading the global response, because the best way to stop this disease, the best way to keep Americans safe, is to stop it at its source-in West Africa. And we have to be guided by the science-we have to be guided by the facts, not fear.”
Part of President Obama’s reasons to make light of the situation is it is becoming a midterm campaign issue. According to a new Gallup poll released on Oct. 21, 2014 Ebola has become a top 10 concern for Americans with 5 percent citing it as a one of the nation’s top problems. An Associated Press-GfK poll released on Thursday, Oct. 23 says that “Just 1 in 5 approve of the CDC’s work on Ebola so far, and only 3 in 10 say they trust that public health officials are sharing complete and accurate information about the virus.” While a NPR poll from Wednesday, Oct 22 says that 49 percent say the government’s response is adequate and 51 percent saying it is not adequate enough. An ABC News/Washington Post poll from Oct. 15 found that “65% of Americans are concerned about an Ebola epidemic, and four in ten Americans are worried they or an immediate family member might catch the disease.” ABC News and Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza have declared the Ebola outbreak is the October Surprise this midterm elections, one that will probably cost the Democrats control of the Senate.
- President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address “Focused on the Fight Against Ebola,” Oct. 24. 2014 — Transcript | mp4 | mp3
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.