Tag Archive: Ebola

This week: Gonna be some PHYSICS up in here (thanks to Princeton & PPPL)

New Jersey – at least its Democrats – have something of a history with Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, a  U.S. Department of Energy national lab managed by Princeton University. Rush Holt, my old boss and NJ’s former scientist-congressman, was an administrator there before he came to Congress representing NJ’s left flank (and CD12), defeating supercomputers, advocating less hackable voting systems and better funding for science research & education. These days, Holt’s got a larger role repping science itself. But now another denizen of PPPL, its Science Education chief Andrew Zwicker, is running for Assembly in LD-16, which has more Ds than Rs (including heavily-Dem Princeton) but is longterm-repped by Republicans.

It’s why I still have a PPPL Google alert. So I wanted to pass on to those of you whose wonkiness extends from politics to science, this: All week, PPPL’s offering live-streaming of lectures on plasma physics & fusion energy that students in PPPL’s Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) and other programs are attending. The SULI Internship brings students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to the Lab from all over the U.S., pairing them with PPPL scientist mentors.  Lecturers include scientists from national labs like PPPL and Sandia and universities including MIT, Michigan, Columbia and TCNJ.

Yeah, it’s heavy. And you’ve already missed the introductory stuff this morning. But it’s all week and it looks fun to me. Here’s all the info:

We need preparedness not bluster to face future epidemic outbreaks

Politicians who go against the advice of experienced public health officials do so at their own peril and that of the people they serve. Gov. Christie should have learned this lesson in October and November when he ignored what the CDC and Ebola-experienced doctors recommended. Christie demanded instead a form of quarantine which was unnecessary and harmed the broader effort to encourage healthcare workers to assist Ebola patients and people at risk in Western Africa. In the process the focus was on detaining a nurse in an outdoor, poorly equipped tent. Christie’s approach may have played well with the far right, but it’s always bad judgment to play with epidemics.

The real focus going back months and even years earlier should have been on assuring that New Jersey was ready for a serious epidemic outbreak. Sadly, as a recent report indicates, New Jersey is among the eight states least prepared. The Trust for America’s Health has reported, “New Jersey Scored Three out of 10 on Key Indicators Related to Preventing, Detecting, Diagnosing and Responding to Outbreaks – Like Ebola, Enterovirus and Superbugs.” New Jersey failed in such areas as vaccinations, healthcare-acquired infections, climate change, preparing for emergency threats, and food safety.  

ICYMI: Christie cold open on SNL

Saturday Night Live again riffed off Chris Christie’s talent for making headlines because “I’m Chris Christie. I’m everywhere!” It was SNL’s cold open, with Cecily Strong as Fox News’ bobblehead Megyn Kelly, Kate McKinnon as nurse Kaci Hickox and Bobby Moynihan fuhgeddaboutit version of Christie.

It’s broad comedy, not SNL’s best or smartest; played for yuks and not for pointed satire. Still, for a chunk of America watching the midterms whiz by and just starting to pay attention to the 40 or so potential GOP 2016 White House candidates, how this guy gets served up to NBC’s audience in the millions (the Chris Rock-hosted SNL was the season’s highest rated), this stuff matters. At least some.

And how did Moynihan serve up Christie? Like “a lovable Kevin James type, an affable jamoke from the old neighborhood.” With the rough charm New Jersey saw 5 years ago before his act wore thin. Maybe his act still has life in the living rooms of America.

Christie: Political Decisions vs. Sound Policy

It is no surprise that Gov. Christie’s public approval rating is crashing. The latest poll has him “at  41 percent positive approval rating and 47 percent saying they disapprove of the governor’s work.” After five years New Jerseyans are increasingly realizing that his political decisions are no match for sound policy.

Christie’s over-arching political decision in the past many months has been to spend his time out of state to benefit his presidential yearnings. It is not clear whether by spending more time at home on pressing New Jersey issues he would have generated sound policies for us. As illustrated below the fold he has a lousy track record.

Christie-quarantined nurse, still asymptomatic for Ebola, being transported out of New Jersey

Well, I guess somebody in Chris Christie’s corner convinced him holding an Ebola-asymptomatic nurse in a hastily-organized and inadequate tent outside a Jersey hospital was a political liability to him. Because in a reversal from his strongly-worded defense of his decision to trap her in a tent in New Jersey for 21 days, nurse Kaci Hickox will be going home to Maine. She has tested negative for Ebola twice. She has no fever.

Of course, it could also have been her widely-reported threat to sue. Or the photos of her living conditions – portable toilet, no shower, no TV – the last 3 days. Or the fact that she spoke out on national TV Sunday that her rights were being violated by Governor Christie. Her boyfriend – a nursing student in Maine – said she decided to speak out after Christie defended the quarantine saying she was “obviously ill” when she, a medical professional, knew she was not.

Hickox, who shows zero symptoms of infection with the Ebola virus, is expected to be released today, after details are worked out for her transfer. Hickox is 33, and returned through Newark Airport from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone with Doctors Without Borders. In a first-person account for the Dallas Morning News – in the city which saw the only Ebola death in the U.S. and the state where she was educated – recounted a chaotic scene at Newark Liberty Airport and the certainty of doctors at University Hospital in Newark who knew pretty quickly that she was negative for Ebola, and had no fever.

The White House pushed back on New Jersey’s mandatory quarantine rules over the weekend. Cue the right-wing freakout over Kaci Hickox’s personal politics. Fear-mongering bests science for these folks every time.

Ebola: Christie giving orders in a rare moment, but the message is reassuring

Only rarely do we get a glimpse of Governor Christie in a private moment when he is addressing his staff. Such occurred yesterday morning just before his Ebola conference. The camera and audio were on and operating before the press and audience were called into the Hackensack Hospital meeting room. With key staff members he was taking a stern, tough guy, approach, “We must be aggressive,” and insisting on effective, strong quarantining. It sounded like someone who likes to bark orders. Of course he was only in New Jersey for a brief visit until he takes off again to Iowa. It is others who must oversee the difficult work.  

Then the sound was abruptly cut off. Minutes later it resumed as reporters entered the room, moved toward their seats and the briefing began. In a more subdued tone he said, “We are prepared. We have worked hard. Everyone needs to be calm. There has been too much media saturation.” He displayed mastery of the details and spoke in a reassuring voice. In fanciful language he said he has “activated an Ebola Preparedness Plan,” although it was clear that his cabinet staff had already formulated a plan and was acting on it.

Most of what Christie said was common sense and in keeping with CDC protocols. He strayed briefly into the political arena when he advocated for denying visas to people coming from affected countries, but such a decision would be made at the federal level not his. He returned to his “tough guy” persona when he said, “I will take whatever steps are necessary…  If someone wants to sue me over it they can.” Most importantly he and staff members detailed elaborate training and updated procedures to demonstrate they were prepared in the eventuality that a traveler with Ebola arrives in New Jersey.

This Blue Jersey article on Sunday stated “It would be reassuring if our Health Department explained that in coordination with local hospitals and the CDC it had a comprehensive plan in place.” Although yesterday Christie was center stage, it was the Health Department Commissioner Mary O’Dowd and others he appointed to an Ebola Joint Response Team who provided the assurance that a sound plan was in place. It is they who must ensure that complex procedures are strictly followed, and they appear prepared to do so.

NJ Ebola preparedness in the unlikely event

The cable stations in particular are feeding the Ebola frenzy of fear. The main thing we have to fear is fear itself. It can drives us into a state of irrational worrying and a desire to take any action whether such action makes sense or not. There ARE steps and precautions to follow. Our State Department of Health (DoH) would play a key role in the event of an outbreak in New Jersey and must have an action plan to implement quickly and correctly should the need arise.

In spite of this heightened fear, after many weeks no one who contracted Ebola in the U. S. has died. Winter pneumonia, elderly people falling, individuals who do not get their vaccinations, these are just a few of the people who are more at risk for serious illness.  

One approach impelled by this fear has been increased screening at several international airports. This tactic is not a bad idea, but neither is it very helpful. Thomas Duncan who passed away in Texas entered the U.S. when he was not symptomatic, he had no fever, was not stopped at the airports and would not have been quarantined when he arrived in Dallas. Individuals flying out of Africa have their temperature taken at the airport, and if they don’t have a fever then, they are unlikely to develop one when they land in the U.S. Even if they have symptoms of Ebola before leaving Africa, by taking Tylenol before and during the flight they may be able lower their temperature to normal and be undetectable. This process has a low likelihood of usefulness.  

So far the federal government has taken an active role, and the burden of effort has been a local one at several hospitals. One of the hospitals and the Texas Department Department of Health showed themselves not to be up to the challenge.

It is action at the state level which is particularly needed now – a coordinated plan for preparedness at care sites, diagnosis, transportation, quarantine, treatment and contact tracing. New Jersey has some 70 general acute care hospitals and many more clinics of limited capabilities – at any one of which a person with Ebola might seek care. The largest of the hospitals might be better prepared, but even they will need assistance.  

Enough. It’s Time to Act To Face Ebola

Okay, enough with the calming down. This is not the beginning of a zombie movie. This is real, and we need to react as a nation, collectively, to meet the Ebola challenge. First, because this morning a nurse at the Dallas hospital which treated the first U.S. Ebola patient has tested positive for the menacing virus, even though she likely took every precaution to prevent transmission. Secondy, the U.S. has sent over 4,000 troops and personnel to the heart of the “Hot Zone” itself in West Africa to tackle the disease head-on.

I do not believe the government is lying to us, or is involved in some sort of elaborate genocidal conspiracy worthy of a Tom Clancy novel. I do believe that the Federal government is comprised of a bunch of people who, like the rest of us, are emotionally and tactically unprepared for the sea-change in attitude required to meet the Ebola problem.

Okay, so what can we do, now?

First and foremost, the President must call Congress into an emergency session to pass “The Emergency Contagion Act.” This Act would create an immediate, multi-billion dollar fund to reimburse hospitals and doctors who treat people with Ebola or with Ebola-like symptoms. The Act would explicitly state that those who seek and use medical care will bear zero fiscal responsibility for their treatment. This is the only way to convince people who show early symptoms of the virus to get the medical care they need – and we need, as a society. The Act would cover every breathing human being – rich people, white people, African-Americans, Latinos, Bavarians, illegal aliens, foreign visitors – everybody. Additionally, the act would cover vet bills for those whose pets are in need of examination and, in the worst case, termination for possible Ebola infection. Yes, dogs might be able to carry it, and they’re the biggest slobberers of all.

Secondly, Congress must pass immediately the “Manhattan Project Act for Ebola,” creating a multibillion-dollar program dedicated to the treatment and, eventually, the cure for this virus. Our medical establishment knows a lot about viruses, especially how to weaken them through a combination of medical ‘cocktails.’ We did this with the AIDS virus decades ago. But nobody ever got AIDS in a hospital setting by coming into contact with an infected person. Not so with Ebola, at least in some stages.

The president must get on TV and address the nation. He must be clear about what is happening in Dallas. He must state straightforwardly that we don’t know, in some cases, how the disease spreads, and that it is obviously more contagious than originally thought.

We can beat this, but we need to act quickly. We need, as a nation, to act boldly and recognize that there are times when “free market approaches” to a crisis are not going to ease or solve a major problem.