You might think that you want to talk about the Greatest Debate Ever, but we're going to set that aside and let it breathe for a week. It was glorious, but there are more things in heaven and earth Donald Trump. For instance: Remember Ebola?
For several weeks last fall, America was on high-alert as the largest outbreak in the history of Ebola hit West Africa, leading to four cases of infection here in the States. A quick refresher:
While the Ebola outbreak in West Africa raged out of control in September and October of 2014, the American medical establishment engaged in a series of blunders and mis-statements that suggested they were either the Keystone cops of infectious diseases or more interested in ideological commitments than science. For instance: The head of the CDC, Thomas Frieden, insisted that Ebola couldn't come to America. And it did. Frieden then insisted that Ebola could not possibly spread in America. And it did. Frieden then dissembled, in a serial manner, about quarantines, travel bans, and the disease's modes of transmission. For example, at one press conference, Frieden was asked if someone could contract Ebola by sitting next to an infected individual on a bus —a question prompted by a statement from President Obama the week before, when he declared that you can't get Ebola "through casual contact, like sitting next to someone on a bus."
Frieden answered: "I think there are two different parts of that equation. The first is, if you're a member of the traveling public and are healthy, should you be worried that you might have gotten it by sitting next to someone? And the answer is no. Second, if you are sick and you may have Ebola, should you get on a bus? And the answer to that is also no. You might become ill, you might have a problem that exposes someone around you."
As I said at the time, this is not the sort of behavior that inspires confidence in our elites.
But things turned out okay Or at least "okay" by the standard of pandemics. Which is to say that, to date, "only" 11,295 people in West Africa have died from the outbreak. It's still ongoing, with new cases having been reported in Liberia in late June and early July. And the spread of the disease outside of West Africa was halted after only a few cases in the United States and Europe. So that's the "good" news.
The worse news is that in the aftermath we're beginning to get a clearer picture of how the medical establishment—especially the CDC and the WHO—conducted themselves. And the after-action reports are horrifying.
Last week I linked to Ari Schulman's amazing New Atlantis essay about all of this, but I'm betting that most of you didn't read it because it's very long, and at times quite technical. And I understand that while a discussion about aerosolization and fluid dynamics blows my skirt up, this sort of thing isn't for everyone.
So let me give you a very abbreviated version of Schulman's report. (Though by skipping this, or anything else in the New Atlantis, you're only cheating yourself.)
At the heart of understanding the CDC and WHO response to Ebola was their view of the disease's transmission. Throughout the crisis, the establishment—and the CDC's Frieden, in particular— went to pains to deny that transmission could come from anything other than "direct contact" with bodily fluids. But it's now clear that this is false: Ebola can be transmitted when the virus is aerosolized via what Schulman calls "aerial transmission." Which means essentially this: A third of Ebola patients exhibit marked coughing. When they cough violently, the air rushing out of their mouths carries off very tiny droplets of saliva, sputum, or blood. And these droplets are so tiny that they can fly through, and even float in, the air currents of the immediate vicinity. How far? We don't really know. Three feet definitely. Eight feet probably. Possibly more. Here's Schulman summarizing one of the more unsettling research papers on the subject: