In their latest attempt to tamp down any panic from the Ebola crisis, administration officials pointed out that screening procedures at airports in West Africa had prevented “dozens and dozens” of people from boarding flights to the U.S.
Monaco stressed that the air screenings have been almost entirely effective in preventing the spread of Ebola onto U.S. soil.
“Dozens and dozens of people have been stopped from getting onto planes,” she said. “We have now seen tens of thousands of people [arrive in the U.S.] since March to the current day, and we now have this one isolated case.”
But according to a top virologist working on a vaccine for Ebola, those screening procedures in Liberia leave a lot to be desired.
Virologist Heinz Feldmann, who has studied Ebola for 20 years and is currently working on one of several experimental vaccines for the virus, warned in a September interview that the airport was the place in Monrovia where he felt the most unsafe, and that screening for Ebola at the airport was a “disaster.”
In an interview with Science Magazine in September, Feldmann, who had recently returned from three weeks in Monrovia, explains that the front lines in west Africa against the Ebola virus are by far the most dangerous; those working for organizations like Doctors Without Borders live under the constant threat of contracting the virus. Feldmann notes that he himself did not feel unsafe working in Liberia because his work was academic, and thus enclosed with the virus, rather than the patients:
Patients are like virus factories producing up to a hundred million virus particles per milliliter of blood, and a patient is unpredictable; a patient could cough, could spit at you, vomit on you, or even become aggressive and attack you. So these people really have the highest risk and have the highest burden.
Feldmann confesses that the place at which he felt the least safe was the airport, calling it the place of “highest risk.” For example, screening occurs in areas confined enough that those being screened are likely to come into contact with the virus should an Ebola patient be among them. Furthermore, screeners are so poorly trained that they often cannot even properly measure temperature.
“They are checking your temperature three times before you get into the airport, but if you look at the people that do this kind of work, they don’t really know how to use the devices,” Feldmann explains. “They are writing down temperatures of 32°C, which everybody should know is impossible for a living person.” Feldmann calls for major overhauls in the system, as he asserts that the checks are “completely useless” and “just a disaster.”
You would expect such incompetence from a third world country like Liberia. And that makes it even more puzzling why we haven’t pulled the plug on flights out of that country where passengers end up in the U.S.
Do authorities really believe that Liberian screening procedures are adequate? Or are they just whistling past the graveyard, hoping that any sick people they miss at Monrovia will be caught somewhere else?
It sounds to me like we are extremely lucky to have only this one case so far. The White House is rolling the dice with American lives and keeping their fingers crossed that their absurd policies won’t blow up in their face.