What American’s Open Borders Mean in a World with Ebola: An Easy But Hopefully Wrong Prophecy

Have you read Laurie Garrett’s piece for ForeignPolicy.com, “You Are Not Nearly Scared Enough About Ebola“? It deserves more attention and perhaps a bit more healthy fear.

Join me in wishing for my complete failure as I make what looks like an easy prophecy regarding health care: Ebola is coming to America. May I be ridiculously wrong. Hopefully Ebola will be swiftly contained and not hurt any more in Africa or anywhere else. But the chances of it spreading eventually could be high, and when it does, it could spread swiftly. Yes, airport security is increasing and many steps will be taken to reduce the risk of Ebola coming through airports. Technology exists to check every passenger coming through our official ports of entry for fever (this is already in place in some Asian airports, for example, to help reduce the risk of spreading bird flu). That’s great, but it won’t affect some of the most important routes for the spread of infection into the US.

Between terrorists who want to hurt us and virus-infected people who might not intend any harm, our porous borders are a dangerous health care menace. Both of America’s political parties seem thoroughly committed to not properly sealing our borders lest they lose votes or be called racists (perhaps am I overly harsh here in explaining their obvious gross negligence), so there is little chance of any serious, life-saving border-security steps being taken (not without your voice, anyway). We face extensive risks of serious disease walking across our borders undetected.

Ebola or other disastrous microbes could be brought as humans walk across the border and bring unintended infection. It’s also possible for terrorists to bring it across on purpose, possibly deliberating infecting a truckload of undocumented victims right before they cross the border. (This can be done without killing the culprits behind the operation. I won’t explain the many paths they can take, but it’s not impossible.) Days later, the virus erupts in multiple US cities. It can happen that easily.

An epidemic can happen even if the border is sealed, but to leave it open makes it too easy for intentional and unintentional entry of the virus. This is a time for diligence and strict protection of borders, and careful health screening of anyone coming from a high-risk area. Those without documentation cannot be given a pass and allowed in without consideration of health risks. Those  walking across aren’t just from Mexico. They come from many parts of the world, including parts with potentially dangerous viruses.

If Ebola strikes in the US, are you ready? Do you have supplies to clean and disinfect? Do you have plenty of paper goods, wipes, detergents, rubber gloves, face masks, and other tools to help you care for your sick loved ones? Your food storage may be essential if an epidemic is happening, for leaving home to get food could expose you to other infected people. Drinking water may be especially important. Ugh, it’s awful even thinking about what can happen when a deadly epidemic breaks out, but it’s been a grim reality for millions of our brothers and sisters across the centuries, and while we’ve been lucky and blessed for many decades, will that luck continue?

Perhaps, but not if we don’t take even basic steps to reduce the risks of deadly outbreaks strolling across our borders. Be scared, but more importantly, be prepared.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

13 thoughts on “What American’s Open Borders Mean in a World with Ebola: An Easy But Hopefully Wrong Prophecy

  1. America’s borders “open”? Myself, and all non-American people I know, make a conscious effort to avoid the US as much as we can in our travelling, due to the more than tricky, time consuming, and annoying border crossings… It’s the least accessible country in the western world, perhaps tied with the UK (I think they may be a close 2nd)… (And I live in Canada). Just FYI 🙂

  2. Ah, you've been taking the slow, legal route. Yes, definitely a pain and often rather unfriendly. But for the many who can just stroll across the border illegally, or even seen there undocumented, unaccompanied children here by the busload, it's a different story.

  3. I think this entry is interesting in light of the fact that the church removed missionaries from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana on 8/1 and reassigned them to other missions on 8/7 without a prudent quarantine period.

  4. The last time I traveled from Europe to the US left a bad taste in my mouth about the behavior of US customs officials toward American citizens. Would it be easier next time if I fly to Mexico and then cross north?

  5. At least you're fairly safe in China. I just read Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee–A Look Inside North Korea, and it looks like China takes border security much more seriously than does the USA (except when it comes to those suspiciously pleasant Canadians…;) ).

  6. Anonymous, the missionaries in those countries had actually been self-quarantined for a considerable period, waiting for opportunities to leave.

    Jeff, you pick the wrong bugaboo when you choose Ebola as your anti-immigrant club. Ebola is immediately incapacitating, and its victims are not going to be strolling across the room, much less any border. There's a reason Ebola outbreaks are very localized, and although nearly always fatal do not, in fact, kill many people — many more unvaccinated American kids will die of measles this year than all who will die worldwide of Ebola. If Ebola comes here, it won't be because some Central American kid tracks it in on his shoe.

    And "porous borders"? Diseases are most likely to be brought here by people exactly like you — businessmen flying in, traveling so quickly and so far that they are unaware they are leaving a zone of contagion and carrying anything with them, and spreading it broadcast at their destination before anyone is aware of anything.

    But then, the facts don't advance your political screed, so why pay attention to facts?

  7. From the World Health Organization:

    "People are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus. Ebola virus was isolated from semen 61 days after onset of illness in a man who was infected in a laboratory.

    The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is 2 to 21 days."

    And if you are comfortable with assuming the missionaries had been adequately "self-quarantined" in the midst of infection and were prudently put into new populations then I hope to god you never have anything to do with public health.

  8. They were isolated in a mission compound for almost 60 days. You'll be hearing more about it in coming days. But then, you obviously know everything about everything already, so you knew that.

  9. I know what the Deseret News printed and what the CDC and WHO recommend.

    If the church was, once more, selective about how much of the truth they tell*, it may have backfired this time.

    * e.g.,real membership numbers, tithing income, "meat"

  10. AEP, I'm very PRO-immigration. I'm mostly descended from relatively recent immigrants (but very proud of my touch of Native American ancestry, and have called for America to greatly open up the ridiculously difficult and restricted immigration process to bring in more of the millions anxious to become American citizens and respect American laws. We need more legal Mexicans, Chinese, Germans, Brazilians, Cubans, and Nigerians. There is enough opportunity and enough space for vastly more who are willing to become Americans.

    But let's do this legally, and fairly to those who have been waiting in line already. Let's do this in ways that prevent people from waltzing in with weapons, biological weapons, obvious signs of infectious disease, criminal records, and so forth.

    To be pro-border security in a world of terrorism and infectious disease is not anti-immigrant. It's anti-chaos, perhaps, but not anti-immigrants. To encourage parents to ship their kids here alone without documentation is hardly an act of compassion, either. Protect the kids by keeping them with their patents. Bring families here together, legally, with more liberal immigration systems that reduce the horrific waiting and expense of coming legally. But keep it legal and controlled. Virtually every other nation does this. Yet we are supposed to believe that the world's super power is too weak to bring order to the border? Bring our troops home and put some on the border. It's not an impossible problem.

    Yes, business travelers are a risk. So we need to control and watch those coming from infected areas. But you're wrong to think that illegal entry poses little risk. The biggest risk is not from a kid from Central America, but from terrorists deliberately using our insecure border as away to introduce an epidemic or other weapons of mass destruction into the US. Would be so easy to infect a group of immigrants right before entry. This could happen on an airplane, yes, or with a truck of victims at the border. To ignore these risks completely is to court disaster. That's bad for all of us, immigrants included.

  11. I always thoufht that one day Ebola would make it to the U.S., because everyrhing else does.
    I am not against immigration. Both sets of great grandparents immigrated legally.
    I am against targeting minorities for deportation when educated people from other countries let their work and student Visa's expire and stay in the U.S. illegally, taking jobs from U.S. born citizens. But these Visa expired people are not targeted because some have money, most are educated and are working, and many are European so they blend in well, unlike the poor Latinos who come in illegally.
    In my hometown there is a University and the majority of the foreign students that attend there come from the Middle East. And all come from money, and they try everything they can to stay in the U.S. I know this because my friend is a Professor at this University.
    So there is a double standard in this country; always has been and always will be. Illegal persons should all be treated equally in deportation regardless of skin color, wealth, education, employment, Visas expiring, whatever. Illegal is illegal. But it does not happen. Citizens of the U.S. are not treated equally so why should anything else be any different.
    Justice is blind in this country.

    And the U.S has done a lousy job of protecting its citizens from terrorists, viruses, bacteria, killer insects, invasive animals and vegetation, and many other dangers.

  12. This bickering is interesting. I took my name off the roles of the church for 27 years, spent that time tinkering around with every church in the valley, and found them to be full of jokesters. A baptists preacher found out I was a democrat and asked me to leave. Other congregations were worse, some in the middle, but mostly on the social side. The only one close to my fit was the Presbyerians because of their social beliefs in helping the homeless and others, and of receiving into their group gays and others. I just got tired of being involved in games and social playing, and am interested in the fact that the LDS has a social network that cares for the informed and poor. I never saw that in any of the other churches , and I also got scared crapless of the pentocostols when they screamed and pretended to speak in tongues, and be slain in the spirit. You can find a lot worse out there than the mormons.

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