It's one thing to quarantine close family members of Thomas Duncan, who died from Ebola at a hospital in Dallas Oct. 8, to monitor for signs of the disease. It's another thing for residents of Louisville, Kentucky, a city 800 miles from where Duncan was treated, to confine themselves to their homes over concerns of being exposed to the virus. But such is the state of panic in the U.S. that some people are choosing to sequester themselves to avoid Ebola, which has ravaged the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“We’re not really going anywhere if we can help it,” Carolyn Smith, who lives in Louisville, told the New York Times. Smith said she was reluctant to leave her home after she heard one of the nurses from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where Duncan was treated, had flown to Cleveland, which is more than 300 miles from Smith’s home.
Other Americans have chosen to pull their kids from school out of what they say is excessive caution. Hundreds of parents at a middle school in Mississippi held their students back because the principal had recently traveled to Zambia, an African country 3,000 miles from the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Agence France-Presse reported.
It's not just travel to Africa that makes some parents uneasy. A teacher in Oregon was placed on a 21-day paid leave of absence after parents raised fears she might have been exposed to Ebola during a recent trip to Dallas where she attended an educational conference.
"I'm really tired of people telling everyone, on the news, starting at the national level, 'zero risk, low risk,'" Matt Dexter, the parent of a student at Strong Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, told the Portland Press Herald. "The bottom line is that there is risk."
U.S. President Barack Obama urged Americans Saturday not to bend to “hysteria or fear” over Ebola, a cycle perpetuated in part by a constant stream of fresh Ebola news, experts have said. Social media and 24-hour access to information have helped to inflate the Ebola crisis in the U.S., psychologists say, even though the virus has killed just one person in the country -- Duncan -- and infected only two out of the scores of people who were in contact with him. Some have likened today’s Ebola panic to the fear following the anthrax attacks of 2001 and the New York City West Nile virus outbreak in 1999.
Health experts say fear of the disease outpaces actual risk. “Obviously there’s fear,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview Sunday on ABC. “We always get caught when we say zero. Nothing is zero.” Fauci added the risk is “extraordinarily low, much less than the risk of many other things.”