#Ebola situation is changing daily. We will continue to share what we know when we know it.
— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrFriedenCDC) October 15, 2014
A few weeks into the Ebola crisis, it often appears the Clampetts are in charge of the public health system, at least in Texas.
A second nurse who treated an Ebola patient in Dallas — a patient who has since died — has now been diagnosed with Ebola.
Federal officials have chastised the media and public for being unduly concerned about Ebola, but they are being inconsistent — or at least confusing — in assessing individual threats to the public.
“The patient had traveled to Ohio before it was known that the first healthcare worker was ill. At that point that patient as well as the rest of the healthcare team were undergoing self-monitoring. The second healthcare worker reported no symptoms and no fever. However, because at that point she was in a group of individuals known to have exposure to Ebola, she should not have traveled on a commercial flight.”
He added that the risk to other passengers is “extremely low,” but the search for the passengers betrays his assertion.
Moreover, Frieden gave exactly the opposite assessment when he was asked on CNN the other day about NBC doctor/journalist Nancy Snyderman, who blew off a “self-monitoring” quarantine and went shopping in New Jersey, even though she was exposed to Ebola while reporting from Liberia recently.
“If she was not sick, she was not putting others at risk,” Dr. Thomas Frieden said when he appeared on CNN’s “Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer.”
So on the other one hand, one person who had been exposed to Ebola, was “self monitoring” and showed no symptoms shouldn’t have gone on a commercial flight. But in a second case, a person who been exposed to Ebola, was self monitoring, and showing no symptoms was OK to go shopping?
“We will, from this moment forward, ensure that no individual monitored for exposure undergoes travel in any way other than controlled movement,” Frieden said in a news conference today.
After Snyderman was outed by a local blogger, she was ordered under “mandatory quarantine.”
Writing on Huffington Post today, Linda P. Fried, dean of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said people should just listen to Frieden.
The proven technique is to follow four steps rigorously and consistently: find the cases of disease; isolate and care for the ill people; contact people who were exposed to the ill people, and further isolate and care for those contacts if they develop symptoms. This is standard public health practice and expertise.
The challenge of mobilizing aggressively on the current scale is a daunting one, even without second-guessing from people with no experience in fighting disease. The challenge becomes exponentially greater, if scarce resources are diverted by uninformed demands — for travel bans, for instance — which are difficult to implement and do not contribute to defeating the disease. Wasting resources by following casual advice — even if adamantly spoken and mightily propelled — would make the tragedy of this disease even greater.
Related: Can you get Ebola on a plane? (Vox).