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Boardman writes: "Those who get Ebola wrong at this point are not 'minimally qualified' for positions of leadership, and the worst of them should be quarantined from infecting the public with further mindless panic."

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. (photo: Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. (photo: Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg/Getty Images)


Ebola Leaves Chris Christie Unqualified to Be President, or Governor

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

27 October 14

 

New Jersey Governor feeds panic, shouting “Fire!” in crowded theatre

bola is not a hidden story these days. Any minimally qualified leader should be able to get it right, as the mayor and medical establishment of New York City have clearly demonstrated. Those who get Ebola wrong at this point are not “minimally qualified” for positions of leadership, and the worst of them should be quarantined from infecting the public with further mindless panic.

Responding to Ebola in late October, Chris Christie, 52, the Republican governor of New Jersey, confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that he is unfit to be President of the United States, or to hold any other public office in which he has responsibility for the health and safety of other human beings. Christie managed this one-two self-knockout punch first by declaring a scientifically unjustified, fear-feeding quarantine policy, then by flat out lying about the quarantine’s first victim.

In recent years, Christie has risen to be what passes for a heavyweight in Republican political circles, in great part by persuading people that he is a straight-shooting, tell-it-like-it-is leader, not some cheap shill for his financial friends willing to close down part of the world’s busiest bridge for reasons rooted in some petty vendetta. Whether he turns out to be that cheap shill remains to be seen. On October 25 in Iowa, where he was campaigning early for president again, the Jersey straight-shooter fired off dishonest remarks that pander to public panic over Ebola.

Maybe Christie was too preoccupied with the 2016 presidential election to get the facts right about Ebola in 2014. Surely the week had offered some unsettling Ebola events, but it’s his job as governor – and would be even more so as president – to get reality right, especially when it’s none too complex. Whatever the reasons contributing to Christie’s persuasive portrayal of a feckless and dishonest leader, here’s the outline of how it unfolded.

Thursday, October 23, Dr. Craig Spencer self-diagnosed with Ebola

Dr. Spencer, 33, returned to New York City on October 17 (variously reported as October 12 or 14) from Guinea, where he had been treating Ebola patients for Doctors Without Borders. Screened at the airport, he showed no Ebola symptoms. All the same, he did not go immediately back to work at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, but followed a medically-proper regimen of limited activity and self-monitoring. He remained without Ebola symptoms through October 22, and was not contagious during that period. Apparently his blood was not tested for the Ebola virus while he was symptom-free.

On October 23, Dr. Spencer took his temperature again and found it slightly elevated, a low-grade fever of 100.3 degrees. He immediately and appropriately went into medical isolation and treatment, where he tested positive for Ebola. (As this is written, he continues in treatment.)

The news set off widespread media coverage, including the frightening and false report that Dr. Spencer went bowling with a temperature of 103 the night before he went into treatment. He did NOT go bowling with a temperature of 103 at any time. When he went into treatment his temperature was 100.3, almost three degrees lower than reported. Much of the media, governmental, and public panic derived from this major error.

Dr. Spencer’s fiancée was briefly quarantined in a New York hospital, but was released on October 25 to home quarantine that lasts until November 14. She has shown no symptoms of Ebola.

Friday, October 24, governors give Ebola police state response

Driven by and at the same time reinforcing media fear-mongering, Governor Christie talked a reluctant New York governor, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, 56, into announcing a bi-state policy, ordering the quarantine of all arriving air travelers who have had any contact with West African Ebola patients. Governor Cuomo had opposed the policy earlier in the day, then reversed himself after meeting privately with Christie. Two days later he was calling it “unenforceable,” but not calling for any change.

A measure of the governors’ panic is that they acted without consulting the White House, federal health officials, state health officials, or New York City health officials.

The New York mayor, Democrat Bill de Blasio, 53, opposed the quarantine policy both before and after it was implemented. The governors did not consult the mayor in advance. Unlike either governor, the mayor spent time the next few days in public, re-tracing the steps of Dr. Spencer before he was diagnosed, in an effort to reassure the public about the limited reality of the danger from Ebola.

In New Jersey Friday afternoon, authorities at Newark International Airport detained a nurse who had treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. Even though she had no symptoms, authorities locked her alone in an empty room for three hours without food or drink, then transferred her in a convoy with eight police cars to University Hospital in Newark as a prisoner.

When a reporter asked Governor Christie about the nurse in detention, according to the N.Y. Daily News, “Christie answered with his usual brio,” which is hard to distinguish from his usual callousness. What he said was: “She’s not in the United [Airlines] lounge. I have no damn idea where she is, probably at Sbarro getting pizza.”

Despite the flip remarks, Christie was apparently not in touch with the reality he had created in Newark, and that reality was ugly.

Saturday, October 25, nurse describes “preventive detention”

The nurse in custody was Kaci Hickox, 33, a Texan with degrees from the University of Texas and Johns Hopkins. She had been caring for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone for Doctors Without Borders. She had been traveling for two days when she arrived in Newark on Friday, only to be treated callously and incompetently by airport, police, and medical personnel.

That made her angry, angry enough to write about her experience in the Dallas Morning News on Saturday. Officials came and went for six hours without explaining what they were doing. They had said she had a temperature, and they were wrong. They were afraid she would expose others, but she tested negative for Ebola. They decided to hold her in 21-day quarantine, because they could.

Trying to remain calm while exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and being treated like a criminal, Kaci Hickox got flushed but managed to remain reasonably calm. And when she decided to object to her treatment under a misguided policy adopted to serve political rather than medical ends, she objected not just for herself. After testing negative for Ebola, she wrote:

I sat alone in the isolation tent and thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?

I recalled my last night at the Ebola management center in Sierra Leone. I was called in at midnight because a 10-year-old girl was having seizures. I coaxed crushed tablets of Tylenol and an anti-seizure medicine into her mouth as her body jolted in the bed. It was the hardest night of my life. I watched a young girl die in a tent, away from her family.

With few resources and no treatment for Ebola, we tried to offer our patients dignity and humanity in the face of their immense suffering…. We need more health care workers to help fight the epidemic in West Africa. The U.S. must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity.

Doctors Without Borders has been critical of the NY-NJ quarantine orders that go well beyond federal regulations, but they have not challenged the orders because they are so unclear and imprecise that a specific challenge is hard to make. The vagueness of these orders may well lead to their being found illegal or unconstitutional. The organization also raised questions about whether the orders were fair and reasonable, or appropriately carried out, since nurse Hickox is isolated in an unheated tent (Newark temperature dropped below 50) and allowed to wear only “uncomfortable paper scrubs.” The tent has a portable toilet, but no television and no shower.

Later on Saturday, Chris Christie let his ignorant inhumanity show

In Iowa, Christie was raising money for Republican congressman Steve King, whose recent opinions include his assertion that President Obama wants “to treat people in Africa as if they were American citizens.” Kaci Hickox is an American citizen, and she’s in solitary confinement for being healthy after doing Good Samaritan work in Africa. A reporter asked Christie for his reaction to the nurse’s newspaper piece, and he responded:

My heart goes out to her because she’s someone who has been trying to help others and is obviously ill….

I’m sorry if in any way she was inconvenienced but inconvenience that could occur from having folks that are symptomatic and ill out amongst the public is a much, much greater concern of mine. I hope she recovers quickly, and we’re going to do everything we can in New Jersey and in our public health system to make sure that she does.

Christie’s response is at least as wrong as it is indecent. The nurse is not “obviously ill,” she’s apparently not ill at all. She wasn’t “inconvenienced,” she is being subjected to an arbitrary, ill-defined, incompetently executed, and possibly illegal order. She’s not “symptomatic and ill,” there was no threat to the public whatsoever. Christie has set himself up to take credit for nurse Hickox recovering from an illness she doesn’t have, but it’s unlikely his heart went out to her any more than his head did. Christie has compounded his fear-mongering and abuse of authority with a level of demagoguery that should disqualify him from further office, not that it always works that way.

And for a second time, Kaci Hickox has tested negative for Ebola.

Sunday, October 26, some resistance to fear, panic, stupidity

Meanwhile, saner, more honest heads are being heard from in reaction to the panic orders that produced this mindless farce. The American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey took only two days to say publicly that the mandatory quarantine order might be an abuse of power:

Coercive measures like mandatory quarantine of people exhibiting no symptoms of Ebola and when not medically necessary raise serious constitutional concerns about the state abusing its powers. By forcibly detaining people we are also frightening the public and may deter genuinely sick people who fear quarantine from seeking the treatments they deserve, while also discouraging caregivers and first responders from helping sick patients who need their assistance.

On CBS, Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) also warned, somewhat tepidly, against the bi-state governors’ ill-conceived quarantine orders, saying that: “The best way to protect Americans is to stop the epidemic in Africa, and we need those healthcare workers to do that.”

The Centers for Disease Control has yet to speak out publicly, but it leaked the news that the agency is “not happy” with the governors’ decision.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the fruits of fear-mongering directly. He not only criticized the treatment of nurse Hickox in Newark as shameful, he spoke out against stigmatizing workers at Bellevue Hospital, where Dr. Spencer is being treated.

Even the White House has weighed in, suggesting that governors Christie and Cuomo should have consulted others before acting ineffectually and in panic. The White House has reportedly asked the governors to rescind their decision which, together with fear-driven policies adopted in Connecticut, Illinois, Florida, and other states acting on their own, threatens to make any rational national policy impossible.

On the other hand, while Democrats dither, the lack of cogent national policy may suit Republicans just fine. Chris Christie has said he has “no second thoughts,” which is yet another quality a good leader can do without.

Monday, October 27, something like sanity trickles down ...

On second thought, Governor Christie has said he will release his political prisoner, nurse Hickox who doesn’t have Ebola, just as soon as details can be worked out with Maine, where she lives. Christie’s announcement came after he predicted on Fox News that New Jersey policy would become national policy. That was before New York changed policy.

Under intense medical and political pressure, Governor Cuomo has announced a loosening of the quarantine order, but it remains draconian and a trophy of the triumph of fear over science. This was Cuomo’s second course reversal in 72 hours. Cuomo was joined at his news conference by Mayor de Blasio, who praised the governor for adopting the kind of flexibility that de Blasio had urged all along. The mayor also attacked the way New Jersey has treated nurse Hickox.

All this fits a much too familiar paradigm of American politics these days: the people who know what they’re doing are ignored, while Democrats dither (and some grope in the right direction), while Republicans with complete self-confidence march serenely in the wrong direction, trashing the constitution without even thinking about it. Here the added bite comes from the panic-driven, political grandstanding supposedly to “protect Americans” with a policy designed to undermine efforts to control the Ebola outbreak in Africa, thereby further endangering pretty much everyone, all for the sake of American exceptionalism.

But isn’t that what we want in a president?



William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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