Earlier this month, the Ebola scare made it to southwest Alabama in two forms.
The first came when the University of South Alabama Medical Center had to treat a potential Ebola patient at its facility. It turned out to be a false alarm, but raised the same concerns healthcare workers at hospitals across the country are facing: How does a medical facility handle a potential Ebola patient?
The second scare came when some realized a lot of the ships that port in Mobile are Liberian-flagged vessels. That wasn’t so much of an actual Ebola threat since ships with Liberian flags have little to do with Liberia, but will claim Liberia as a “flag of convenience” because Liberia is a lightly regulated, inexpensive place for a ship to declare home.
That scare was enough for the Port Authority to respond — disavowing the threat and reassuring that the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and the U.S. Coast Guard were on top of the situation.
The situation is not exclusive to Mobile, it is underway all over the country. Whether it’s justified or not, the reality is people are scared about the threat of Ebola. The stock market has suffered. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down nearly 900 points from its 2014 highs of just a month ago. And it’s certainly had an impact in our politics.
Republicans have seized on the issue, many calling for travel restrictions and highlighting the CDC’s perforation as yet another example of government incompetence.
Even Mobile’s hopefully soon-to-be breakout star Rep. Bradley Byrne joined the chorus of those criticizing President Barack Obama’s response and calling for a travel ban last week.
“President Obama should be doing more to address this outbreak, and he should start by placing a temporary ban on flights into the United States from West Africa. A travel ban would help to halt new cases of Ebola from entering our country and allow our medical community to focus on stopping the spread based on the current cases,” Byrne said in a release last week. “That said, a travel ban alone won’t be enough to protect the American people from the spread of Ebola. We must continue to implement intensive screenings of air passengers to limit the spread and quarantine any potential cases.”
Byrne also protested the use of the U.S. military in Africa, which could impact the state as well.
Last week, Obama issued an executive order authorizing the Pentagon to call up the National Guard to help combat the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Thus far, it is Kentucky guardsmen stationed in Senegal, but if previous Guard deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq are any indicator, there is the potential for Alabama guardsmen to be called to duty.
That move is unpopular for an obvious reason – the fear part-time guardsmen could bring this highly contagious disease back stateside. For Kentucky guardsmen to be used, it’s hard to imagine it’s helping Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is already facing an uphill battle against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Less of an impact and more of interesting side note, the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Domestic Preparedness facility in Anniston at the site of the old Fort McClellan is where the Center for Disease Control has been training some healthcare workers on how to protect themselves from the Ebola virus before they departed to Africa. The CDC was very careful to say they’re not going to be treating Ebola patients at the site, but now through January, McClellan will be a launching point for the U.S. response to the virus on the ground in West Africa.
The Ebola crisis will also have an impact on electoral politics. Although the polls have yet to reflect this in local races, fear will be a motivating factor to get people out to the voting precinct and in the swing state races where the margins are single digits, the fear of Ebola alone could make the first Tuesday in November a shocker in some races.
The polling does show a sense of disapproval for Obama specifically regarding his handling of the Ebola threat. A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted earlier this month found 43 percent of the respondents expressing disapproval of how Obama is handling the U.S. response to Ebola. It dropped to 41 percent when asked if Obama was doing well on the matter and even lower to 33 percent when asked if the U.S. government is “doing all it reasonably can to try to prevent further cases of Ebola.”
Since that polling was done, Obama has stepped up with the aforementioned National Guard deployment. As of press time, he’s still reluctant to issue a travel ban to the affected countries. But should Ebola make another big splash domestically – be it the death of a healthcare worker or of a U.S. serviceperson deployed in west Africa or even a reported case in a Latin American country with the president’s so-called executive amnesty looming – that could be enough to shift the wind to the backs of Republicans on Election Day and making the last two years of the Obama presidency irrelevant.