A licensed clinician sanitizes his hands after a simulated training session on Ebola given by CDC in October.

A licensed clinician sanitizes his hands after a simulated training session on Ebola given by CDC in October. Brynn Anderson/AP

This Is What Functioning Government Looks Like

After an embarrassing start, public-private sector leaders get their acts together on Ebola.

When the first person diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil died in October, I suggestedthere was something scarier than the prospect of an outbreak. More alarming than a Texas hospital's misdiagnosis of Thomas Duncan. More threatening than a bureaucratic snafu at the state health department that delayed sanitization of Duncan's apartment. More worrisome than the sluggish pace of U.S. aid to West Africa, ground zero for the virus.

Of all the reasons to get hysterical about Ebola, what concerned me most was the social precedent. The initial response reminded Americans of the limits of critical U.S. institutions—in this case, various state, local, and federal agencies and private-sector health systems that responded to Duncan's illness slowly, inefficiently, and with a lack of candor that Americans, unfortunately, have come to expect.

In short, the United States faces crises of leadership and trust. Which, to me, is the scariest thing about the Ebola outbreak. I'm far less worried about the disease striking me or my loved ones than I am about what this incident says about the nation's ability to survive a true cataclysm. Whether the next existential event is Ebola or ISIS or any of the countless 21st-century horrors, we are only as strong as our institutions—and our trust in them.

Since I wrote that column on Oct. 4, the institutions rallied. Our leaders got their acts together. President Obama and congressional Republicans, along with the public and private health sectors, deserve credit for positive steps taken since the Ebola crisis's unacceptable start.

Two health care workers infected by Duncan recovered. Seven other Americans were infected with Ebola—all overseas, and all but one recovered. Most famously, Dr. Craig Spencer fell ill after returning from working for Doctors Without Borders in Guinea. While infected, he used the New York subway and a car service, and went bowling—all without transmitting the disease. He is fully recovered.

"Our best experts thought that high-quality health care could treat Ebola, but didn't really know because Ebola had never been here before," said Ron Klain who was appointed in the fall to be Obama's so-called Ebola czar. Sitting in his office overlooking the West Wing, Klain ticked off the accomplishments of a coordinated public-private sector attack.

• The number of U.S. hospitals certified to treat Ebola increased from three to 44.

• The number of labs that can test for Ebola increased from 14 to 42.

• The first-ever Ebola vaccine completed first-stage trials in December, and 20,000 doses will be administered in Africa in just weeks.

• A voluntary self-monitoring system for travelers was replaced with an "active monitoring system" that routes anyone traveling from West Africa to one of five U.S. airports, where they are screened and given a preprogrammed cell phone with numbers to call if they get ill. Each person is tracked by a state public health department for 21 days. Travelers exposed to the virus get their temperature checked twice daily. Klain gets a daily update. On Monday, data were recorded on 98.9 percent of the people being tracked.

• Congress took just five weeks to pass a $5.4 billion package aimed at preventing further outbreaks. While the White House had asked for $6.2 billion, Obama signed the bill, and Klain said the GOP made "reasonable changes."

• In Liberia, Ebola treatment units were built by the United States on time, and the number of news cases has dropped from about 100 per day to five or 10 per day. For all of West Africa, the epidemic is still rampant, although Klain said the number of cases is below forecast

"The point here isn't that the response has been perfect," Klain said. He noted that a lab error at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta may have exposed a technician to Ebola. In West Africa, Sierra Leone, and Guinea steep challenges remain. "But I think it is the case that the Ebola response has been coordinated, effective, and shown real results."

Klain said Obama deserves credit for ignoring the clamor for a West African quarantine, a step that might have helped the White House politically but that scientists said would have made it harder to fight Ebola at its roots.

He also praised congressional Republicans, particularly outgoing Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, who chaired the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees health care funding. After losing is Senate bid, Kingston helped steer the aid bill through the House while a lame duck. "He busted his butt," Klain said.

Finally, Klain said the public and private health care systems deserve huge praise for treating and containing Ebola. "They took up the challenge very aggressively," he said.

Policy ahead of politics? Bipartisanship? Competent bureaucracies? Klain attributed the Ebola rebound to "the classic American attitude of people holding up their hands and saying, 'I'm willing to do it.' "

The institution faring worst in all of this may be mine: The media, which seems to flit from crisis to crisis like a moth against a well-lit window, converting fear into ratings and page-views.

Numerous polls show the media leading an unhealthy trend: Steadily, over the past four decades, the nation has lost faith in virtually every institution that is key to a functional society: banks, school, colleges, charities, unions, police departments, organized religion, big and small business, and, of course, politics and government.

While no single event will reverse or even nudge the trend, on Ebola – of late, anyhow – U.S. leaders seem worthy of our trust.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.