The Corner

Five Assurances from the Federal Government About Ebola That Have Proven Less than Reliable

It’s no secret that the U.S. government’s response to the Ebola virus’s arrival has been lackluster. The feds have repeatedly assured the public that everything is under control, even as their previous promises crumble around them. 

Here’s a chronological list of the federal government’s most egregious misstatements and false declarations about the deadly virus’s spread:

July 28, 2014: CDC official calls Ebola’s arrival in the United States “a very remote possibility.”

As the outbreak in West Africa picked up speed this summer, CDC official Stephan Monroe briefed reporters on the threat. “The likelihood of the outbreak spreading outside of West Africa is very low,” he said. “Nevertheless, because people do travel between West Africa and the U.S., CDC needs to be prepared for the very remote possibility that one of those travelers could get Ebola and return to the U.S. while sick.”

On September 20, Thomas Eric Duncan arrived in Dallas from his native Liberia, carrying the virus with him.

September 16, 2014: President Obama says the chance of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is “extremely low.”

During a visit to the CDC’s Atlanta headquarters, President Obama addressed the American people directly. “Our experts, here at the CDC and across our government, agree that the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low,” he said. “In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared here at home.”

On September 30, news broke that Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola in at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital, where he infected at least two others.

October 1, 2014: CDC promises robust support for any and all hospitals caring for Ebola patients.

After Duncan’s arrival at Dallas Presbyterian, the CDC announced they would send a team that, among other things, would “ensure the hospital uses appropriate infection control measures” and “monitor the health status of health-care providers who cared for the patient.”

On October 12, nurse Nina Pham tested positive for Ebola after treating Duncan at Dallas Presbyterian. Director Frieden admitted a stronger CDC response “might have prevented” her infection, adding that he “wish[ed] we had put a team like this on the ground the day the first patient was diagnosed.”

October 5, 2014: CDC director Tom Frieden declares U.S. hospitals will be able to ”stop [Ebola] in its tracks.”

In the few days after Duncan’s admission, Frieden and the CDC repeatedly promised that U.S. hospitals have the technology and know-how to contain the infection. “We will stop it in its tracks,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulous on October 5, ”because we’ve got infection control in hospitals and public health that tracks and isolates people if they get symptoms.” Nurses union National Nurses United disagreed, saying American hospitals “are not ready to confront this deadly disease.”

On October 15, a second nurse, Amber Vinson, was diagnosed with Ebola. Like Pham, she treated Duncan at Dallas Presbyterian. 

October 12, 2014: CDC director Tom Frieden claims all 48 health-care workers who cared for Duncan are being carefully monitored.

While warning that addition cases of Ebola after Pham’s were still possible, Frieden took pains to explain that all potential carriers were being watched closely. “The risk is in the 48 people who are being monitored,” he said, ”all of whom have been tested daily, none of whom so far have developed symptoms or fever.”

In violation of CDC protocol, Amber Vinson flew on a commercial airliner one day before she was admitted to the hospital with Ebola. She had a temperature of 99.5 degrees before boarding the flight, but was nevertheless cleared by a CDC official to travel commercially. Frieden admitted on October 15 that she “should not have traveled” on that airliner, promising more careful monitoring in the future.

October 15, 2014: President Obama says he is “absolutely confident” the United States will not suffer a “serious” Ebola outbreak.

During a cabinet meeting, the president told reporters he was “absolutely confident that we can prevent a serious outbreak of the disease here in the United States,” adding that he was still confident in CDC director Tom Frieden’s leadership.

We’re still okay on this front — so far.


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