Confusion at the CDC Shows U.S. is Unprepared to Respond to Ebola Outbreak at Home

CDC employees Chastity Walker, right, and Alyse Finkel analyze Ebola details in the Emergency Operations Center in Atlanta. (Photo: David Tulis for USA TODAY)
CDC employees Chastity Walker, right, and Alyse Finkel analyze Ebola details in the Emergency Operations Center in Atlanta. (Photo: David Tulis for USA TODAY)

As Thomas Eric Duncan’s family mourns the USA’s first Ebola death in Dallas, one question reverberates over a series of apparent missteps in the case: Who is in charge of the response to Ebola?

The answer seems to be — there really isn’t one person or agency. There is not a single national response.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has emerged as the standard-bearer — and sometimes the scapegoat — on Ebola.

Public health is the purview of the states, and as the nation anticipates more Ebola cases, some experts say the way the United States handles public health is not up to the challenge.

“One of the things we have to understand is the federal, state and local public health relationships,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “Public health is inherently a state issue. The state really is in charge of public health at the state and local level. It’s a constitutional issue. The CDC can’t just walk in on these cases. They have to be invited in.”

The CDC deployed a team of 10 — three senior epidemiologists, a communication officer, a public health adviser and five epidemic intelligence officers, or “disease detectives” — to Dallas on the night of Sept. 30, hours after the agency announced that Duncan, a Liberian national who traveled to Dallas, had the Ebola virus. The next afternoon, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, head of the Dallas County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management; CDC director Tom Frieden; and David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, agreed during a conference call to set up an Emergency Operations Center in Dallas County with Jenkins in charge.

The EOC was staffed by officials from Dallas County, the city of Dallas, the CDC, the county and state health departments and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, among others.

This was the team that made decisions on matters such as isolating people who had been in direct contact with Duncan, including his fiancée, Louise Troh, her teenage son and two other male relatives. Because they were not sick, they couldn’t technically be quarantined, Jenkins said Friday. Instead, Lakey issued a “control order” to keep them at home, where they could be monitored for signs of Ebola. Jenkins and Texas Gov. Rick Perry agreed to the order.

Texas officials were criticized for keeping the family inside the apartment where Duncan first showed signs of the disease, potentially exposing them to the virus. The family worried about Duncan’s soiled sheets and other waste in the apartment. The response team located a private home where the family could move and got permits to clean the apartment and truck 140 55-gallon barrels of waste to an incinerator 400 miles away.

Jenkins says he has a working model for how to respond to Ebola cases. Others aren’t so confident.

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SOURCE: Larry Copeland

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