8/19, 8/20, 8/21 New Mexico ebola-testing updates: See below
& I try not to watch too much cable news these days. The only hope for optimism about the future of this country – the planet for that matter – is in not knowing what the hell is happening. I have a friend, an intelligent, well-versed-on-the-stuff-Back-East-think-tank-people-are-well-versed-on person, whose bottom line these days, is: “In the short term I’m pessimistic, but in the long-term, I’m optimistic.” I take him at his word, not knowing why. Avoiding tv news helps.
But: The tube in my kitchen occasionally is on, and I pass within earshot while moving between one chore and other, and something catches my attention. It was on early this morning (8/18) as I sat nursing coffee and perusing my online version of the Santa Fe New Mexican to learn if there was anything new on last weekend’s FBI arrest of our county’s sheriff on civil rights violation charges (that’s another story. Tune in later, please), and read that a young woman is in the hospital in Albuquerque, being tested for the ebola virus.
Yeah, you read that right: A woman in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, may – maybe not, tests are still underway – may have ebola. [Aug. 21 update: Tests were negative.]
Today’s story in the paper, which you can read here, says a 30-year-old teacher who recently returned from West Africa, where more than 2,000 cases of the deadly contagious disease have been confirmed, where more than 1,000 have died from it, and where it’s expected to get a lot worse before it gets any better.
High in the New Mexican’s story is a statement from a doc that “there really isn’t a risk to the public at this point,” and the reporter’s assurance that the “woman…has no known exposure to the disease.”
Swell. That’s good to know. It would be good to know some other things, however. Does everybody returning from West Africa get tested for ebola? No? Ok, what was it that put the woman in the hospital? What was it that caused enough concern to begin testing her for ebola? What are the things that might be important if – and only if – she does have the virus? When did she return from West Africa? Although the Santa Fe readers are assured in the story that she “had not traveled to Santa Fe since her return to New Mexico”, we might wonder where else she might have been. Is the hospital properly equipped to handle a case of ebola? Lots of questions. No answers.
A couple of weeks ago, you’ll remember, a doctor who had gotten Ebola in West Africa — the first of two American ebola victims to enter the U.S — was returned to the United States. He came back aboard a jet specially equipped with an isolation chamber, attended by medicos in hazmat suits and transferred in an ambulance to a hospital in Atlanta. Every step of the way, the national news media covered this story. I’d see it on CNN as I passed by the tube in my kitchen. There was Wolf Blitzer in the studio, keeping us informed of minute-by-minute developments. There was Sanjay Gupta in front of the hospital, giving us a detailed crash course on the dangers of this so-far uncontrollable and often-fatal virus. There were reporters on the ground, at the airport and along the route the ambulance took to the hospital, breathlessly spewing unimportant crumbs of intelligence. Every time I walked by the tv, there was somebody blathering on about the smallest of details; I think I even heard someone telling me about who built the isolation chamber in the airplane. And, I think they actually followed the ambulance in helicopters, covering the journey, live, for the entire trip from the airport to the hospital. It reminded me of the overhead helicopter pursuit, a decade ago, of O.J. Simpson’s Ford Bronco on its slow-motion Los Angeles odyssey.
I’m sure CNN wasn’t alone in this obsessive coverage of an ebola victim, or in watching for other possibilities of cases in the United States. And I’m also sure that if the national media descended on Albuquerque like it descended on and hovered over Atlanta, there would be answers to some of the questions we all have about this developing story.
But so far, there has been no national media attention given. No mention that I’ve seen. At 11 o’clock this morning, I checked the web pages of CNN and MSNBC and CBS news; for all I know, I might have missed an on-air mention of the Albuquerque ebola concern. But, there was no reference to the possibility of ebola in Albuquerque, none, on any of those websites. The Albuquerque story – although different from the Atlanta story – carries with it the same worries: They have to do with whether this nasty, too-often-fatal virus is among us. So why has it been ignored, so far, by the national news media? Because it may be among us, not among them.
Simple answer: Because they’re back there and we’re out here. They don’t chase a story in New Mexico like they’d chase the same story in New York. And don’t let them try to tell you otherwise. If that woman had ended up in a New York hospital, you’d have heard about it quickly, in detail, incessantly, breaking news headlines tripping over themselves. You’d have heard answers to a lot of important questions.
If it turns out that the woman in Albuquerque has ebola – and we all certainly hope she does not – the national media will send their news story smoke-jumpers out here to descend upon us like a swarm of locusts, demanding answers. They’d create the pressure to get some explanation that we’re all entitled to have – big-time national pressure that local media just can’t apply. Until and unless the swarm descends, we’ll just sit here wondering, and listening to Wolf Blitzer tell us how CNN covers the world. His world. That is, if we’re watching tv.
& Tube-tired, I’m outta here.
Correction: Reference in earlier version of this post to an “assault” charge against the sheriff was incorrect. The federal charges filed were violation of civil rights (based on an alleged altercation between the sheriff and a man he had pursued for a traffic stop), brandishing a firearm, and falsification of a document.
8/19: Some of those questions were answered in Tuesday’s update from the New Mexican:
“Test results from the CDC determining whether she contracted the disease are expected by the end of the week.
“Because the patient had returned from an area with Ebola and had symptoms compatible with the disease, the Department [of Health] determined it would be prudent to test for Ebola even though the likelihood was felt to be relatively low,” Vigil said.
The New Mexico woman, who went to University Hospital complaining of a sore throat, headache, muscle aches and a fever, is being screened for the disease as a precaution, Vigil said. She had no known exposures to the virus, which is transmitted through direct contact with open wounds or exchange of bodily fluids with someone infected with the disease.
New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward offered assurances Monday that no one should be deterred from going to Albuquerque or the hospital because of the patient’s presence.
“People who have to go to [University] Hospital should keep their appointments and go there with full confidence that they will be safe,” Ward said.
University Hospital is equipped, and its staff is trained in CDC standards for infection control, hospital spokesman John Arnold said.
8/20: Some good news, From KRQE, Albuquerque: – A New Mexico health official told KRQE News 13 the patient being tested for Ebola at UNM Hospital does not have all the symptoms doctors would expect someone with the virus to have.
The 30-year-old Bernalillo County woman returned from teaching in Sierra Leone recently and checked herself into the hospital with flu-like symptoms.
KRQE News 13 was told she does not have the high fever often associated with the virus.
Her blood work has been sent to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta for testing. Results are expected later this week.
[For a well-done earlier wrap-up of this story, check KRQE’s 8/17 story.]
8/21: Center for Disease Control reports that the test was negative.