Professionals devoted to preventing global pandemics know best how to do their jobs — when they're left to do their jobs. The danger comes when politicians and bureaucrats intervene with an eye toward easing human suffering or minimizing political fallout and wind up hastening the spread of the very viruses they're fighting. One bad decision after another helped make the 2014 ebola scare far worse than it should have been. The new novel coronavirus pandemic is exposing an entirely new dimension in bad calls.
The plight of 380 Americans stuck aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan is a case in point. U.S. officials decided to evacuate the Americans, who were among the 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew aboard. But it was only after they were removed and seated on airport-bound buses that officials determined 14 were infected with the coronavirus. By putting them inside a jumbo jet, the risk rapidly escalated for even more passengers to become infected during the long trans-Pacific flight.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he wouldn't be surprised if more of the evacuees tested positive. The quarantine on the Diamond Princess simply wasn't working. "I'd like to sugarcoat it and try to be diplomatic about it, but it failed. ... Something went awry in the process of the quarantining on that ship," he told USAToday.
Were there better options than putting them on a plane for an additional 14-day quarantine at two U.S. military locations? Would it have been smarter to keep them quarantined on shore in Japan? Some passengers smartly refused to board the plane, worrying that the risk was too high.
Then there was the warm welcome that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen gave to the 2,257 passengers aboard a Holland America cruise ship after other countries had refused to let it dock. Instead of insisting on a quarantine once he granted entry, the prime minister let hundreds of passengers disperse — without being tested.
Each time an infection is reported, medical personnel are supposed to find out exactly where the patient has been and with whom he or she has been in contact. Those people all need to be tested. Multiply that process by the 73,332 confirmed cases as of Tuesday — including 804 in 25 countries outside of China — and that helps explain the massive job ahead when containment efforts fall apart. The temporary (albeit extreme) discomfort of a few is better than risking a far greater mass exposure.
Two Dallas nurses learned the hard way during the 2014 U.S. ebola outbreak what disasters befall medical personnel who aren't trained to follow proper quarantine procedures. With 15 infections of coronavirus confirmed around the United States, including two cases in Illinois, the time for preparation and training is now.
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