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The irrational panic about Ebola is more contagious than the virus itself

I seldom laugh out loud at anything I read, but I did at story in the Detroit News yesterday. The headline said:Snyder: Michigan has 1,000 isolation beds for Ebola.That’s all the proof I needed that, sure enough, we are all going to die. But before you put on your hazmat suit to walk the dog, I want to let you in on a little secret. 

We are indeed all going to die, but not of Ebola. I am frightened of many things, but I am not worried about Ebola in the least. If over the air gambling was legal, I’d happily bet anyone that nobody in Michigan is going to die of Ebola, ever. That is, unless they go to West Africa and come in contact with the body fluids of an infected person, and I’m not planning on that this weekend.

However, there is something that is hazardous to our emotional and mental health, and that is the appearance of any frightening disease close to an election.

There are some people who like to be scared, but in a tame sort of way. Now, I do not mean to make light of Ebola. It is a horrible disease that has killed thousands of people. The governor’s oral response was actually more sensible than that headline indicated.

What he said was: “Ebola is hopefully a low-threat, low risk problem in the state of Michigan, but it’s a serious one.”

Now, it makes perfect sense to have a plan in place just in case. But there is no hidden hospital with a thousand beds for Ebola victims. Nor is there a facility designated for the treatment of such patients. Here’s where the number in that headline comes from:

All the hospitals in Michigan put together have a thousand isolation beds that could theoretically be used to treat Ebola. Which pretty much means nothing.  Wally Hopp, a professor and dean at the University of Michigan, has sensibly argued that the state ought to designate one facility to receive any patient who might carry the virus.

There is something that is hazardous to our emotional and mental health, and that is the appearance of any frightening disease close to an election.

But consider this. While highly dangerous and infectious, Ebola is not very contagious. You apparently have to come in direct contact with the bodily fluids of a human or animal that has it.

We’ve had precisely three cases in this country and one death, that of a man who was infected in Liberia and then traveled here.

Nevertheless, we have had irrational panic. Universities have been disinviting speakers who have been in Africa, in some cases months ago, even though this is clearly irrational behavior.

Yes, we should take precautions against Ebola. But if you want to worry about danger and increasing deaths, consider this:

According to Carol King, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s transportation research institute, 26 more people died in one recent year because the Legislature passed and Governor Snyder signed a bill repealing the motorcycle helmet law.

And our unwillingness to pass any kind of sane gun control means Michigan has more than a thousand shooting deaths a year.

Those are real problems. Something could be done about them.

However, it’s a lot easier for our leaders to pretend they are saving us from Ebola.

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