Now the Ebola panic has moved to a new level. Science magazine reported yesterday:
Ebola fears are interfering with the world’s premier scientific meeting on tropical diseases. Today, Louisiana state health officials asked anyone who has traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea in the past 21 days, or has treated Ebola patients elsewhere, to stay away from the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which begins on Sunday in New Orleans.
ASTMH says that the annual meeting is its “flagship event” and “is the premier forum for the exchange of scientific advances in tropical medicine and global health.” The organization also says it “is proud to be the professional home for scientists, clinicians and program professionals who lead the fight against infectious disease – in the lab and on the ground.”
Yet, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals—whose Secretary was appointed by the very right-wing Governor Bobby Jindal—and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has taken the position that if anyone shows up, say, someone with expertise in Ebola transmission and who has actually been to West Africa, they will be given the Chris Christie treatment and quarantined for 21 days.
It’s bad enough that an Ebola-fighting nurse was imprisoned in a tent in New Jersey, now we have scientists and other infectious disease experts being treated like they are a threat to public health in Louisiana.
ASTMH had little choice but to warn those who were planning on attending the important event:
We deeply regret that some of our attendees are affected by Louisiana’s travel advisory and as a result, we have requested that people planning to attend the Annual Meeting cooperate with the state’s policy.
Science magazine quoted Daniel Bausch, a researcher at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, as saying, “This policy is fundamentally flawed and not evidence-based.” Who is surprised at that, given the dominance of the anti-science party in Louisiana? The magazine also offered us this quote from Peter Hotez, who is Founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine:
It’s very unfortunate and could potentially be counterproductive by preventing health care workers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea from sharing their experiences and findings at one of the most important tropical disease meetings globally.
Yes, it is unfortunate. But it seems more than potentially counterproductive. It seems obviously counterproductive.
All of this Ebola fear and hysteria, all of this haste to quarantine healthy people, reminds me, for some reason, of the post-Pearl Harbor internment of U.S. citizens who happen to have had Japanese ancestry. That sad episode happened because large numbers of people, including people in power, suspected that tens of thousands of Japanese Americans might actually have had some American-killing blood in their veins. That infamous interment order was signed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1942, but a commission authorized by Congress in 1980 found that the order “was not justified by military necessity.” Further, the commission said:
The broad historical causes that shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. Widespread ignorance about Americans of Japanese descent contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan.
There may not be race prejudice involved in Americans’ reaction to Ebola here at home, but there is a whole lot of hysteria and a blossoming failure of political leadership, especially Republican leadership.