FORBES | During the Ebola epidemic this fall, I was reminded of the chaos and fear we felt in the Senate in 2001. When the first anthrax letter was opened in the office of Majority Leader Tom Daschle, no one really even understood what anthrax was, much less how it was contracted, transmitted, or the disease’s natural history. As a result, it was days before a plan for evacuation, testing, and treating exposures was implemented. We had no mechanism for a coordinated and controlled response to a major health emergency.
Thirteen years later, I am afraid we were just as unprepared. News that the first Ebola-infected doctor was returning home for treatment resulted in outrage about the potential threat, and calls for a West Africa travel ban. Given the rarity of Ebola, the public lacked general knowledge of the disease. Relevant governmental agencies failed to adequately disseminate information, and hospitals and healthcare workers didn’t know how to contain and treat infected patients. Soon, two Texas nurses became infected. It wasn’t until eighteen days after the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in the U.S., that the Obama administration appointed an “Ebola Czar.”