Via The Globe and Mail, a great column by Elizabeth Renzetti: Remember the U.S. Ebola crisis? The only epidemic was fear-mongering. Excerpt:
Remember the great North American Ebola hysteria of ’14? The baseless quarantines, the helicopters following the first infected American aid worker as he was taken off a plane in the United States, the television news channels that warned, in a continuous panicky crawl, that “cases may soar to 10,000 per week.”
The terror was justified – if you happened to live in certain parts of West Africa. As of last week, the death toll in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone had reached 9,637 out of 23,781 confirmed cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Thankfully, it looks like the spread of the disease is finally slowing in those countries.
One person who was diagnosed with Ebola in the United States died, out of four confirmed cases. You would never know that, judging by the paranoia and political grandstanding that dominated the airwaves in October.
A community college in Texas stopped taking applicants from affected countries; two kids from Sierra Leone were beaten up in America because, you know, they’d been to Sierra Leone. Health-care professionals returning from Africa were placed under quarantine even if they showed no symptoms; anyone they’d come in contact with was told to stay at home too, as if the virus could spread by mere proximity (which was not the case). It was like Beatlemania, if you took away the Beatles and just kept the mania.
There has never been a case of Ebola in Canada, but that didn’t prevent our government’s shameful decision to deny visas to visitors from the afflicted countries, over the protests of public-health experts. Australia did the same thing.
The most absurd cautionary tale had to involve the closing of Coming Attractions, a bridal shop in Akron, Ohio, which shut down in January after months of poor sales. The reason? Amber Vinson, a nurse who contracted (and recovered from) Ebola had visited the store before her diagnosis.
“You can’t Google ‘Coming Attractions’ without the word ‘Ebola’ coming up everywhere,” one of the shop’s employees told a local newscast. I feel for the owners of the shop, though not as deeply as I feel for the people suffering and fighting the disease in West Africa.
Some of the damage the hysteria left in its wake was laid out in a report this week called Ethics and Ebola, from the U.S. Presidential Commission on Bioethical Issues.
“In the United States,” the authors noted, “the limited cases sometimes generated widespread fear, unflattering reactions and governmental responses that some argued were actually focused on addressing political implications of such public reactions as opposed to the underlying health concerns themselves.”