Too Many Chefs in the Contagion Kitchen? Why It Could Make Us All Sick

It’s not so much that Ron Klain has no medical experience and he’s now our “Ebola czar,” it’s that his appointment adds yet another administrative layer to what we’re constantly told is a contained health threat.

Again, it isn’t the “czar” thing that bothers me, or the fact that Klain is a political insider. After all, back in 2004, President George Bush’s choice of Stewart Simonson to be his “bird flu czar” relied on Simonson’s work as an assistant secretary of health and human services. He presumably knew the institutional ropes, even though he had zero medical background, and so too, I suspect Klain today.

No, what bothers me is the layer upon layer of experts who are weighing in on this Ebola crisis, and just by their growing, and now constant reassurances, all but guaranteeing it stays a crisis. Keep in mind that Klain now becomes our nation’s Ebola Coordinator-in-Chief. All healthcare directives pass through him, and other contagion experts presumably answer to him or at least sing from the government’s same contagion choir book written by him.

Again, nothing wrong with this, just like there’s nothing wrong with someone who knows the levers of government, forcing those levers of government, or as one medical expert put it, “to let medical experts do their thing.”

That’s fine. Here’s what isn’t: Constantly assuring us all is well, even as alarmed officials keep changing established medical protocols. Much of this dates back to how authorities treated the cordoned off Dallas apartment of now deceased Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first advised any waste removed from that dwelling could be transported just like any other medical waste. But Homeland Security, acting through an edict from the Transportation Department, advised just the opposite -- forbidding the transportation of any possibly infected materials.

Then there’s the mixed messages Ebola-infected Dallas nurse Amber Vinson was getting from medical officials at all levels. Even though she had treated Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, and asked her bosses there whether she could still fly, her relatively low-grade fever didn’t raise any serious alarms. It turns out Vinson was given the okay to board a passenger plane not once, but three times.

Now Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins tells reporters that was a mistake and that Vinson shouldn’t have been allowed to fly, because no less than Vinson herself was the one raising potential issues, particularly flu-like symptoms she was experiencing while in Ohio.

Little wonder Vinson’s family put out a statement this past weekend to defend her actions, and her consistent truthfulness.

“We are troubled by some of the negative public comments and media coverage that mischaracterize Amber and her actions,” her family stated. “To be clear, in no way was Amber careless prior to or after her exposure to Mr. Thomas Eric Duncan. She has not and would not knowingly expose herself or anyone else.”

Then there’s the CDC’s revised rules for health care workers treating Ebola patients. They must now wear protective gear “with no skin showing,” versus prior protocols that allowed for some neck and shoulder exposure.

And all of this as the Pentagon announces its own 30-person team to assist medical staff in this country. What if this team’s approaches differ from those of the CDC, or when it comes to the transportation of medical waste, those protocols of the Department of Transportation itself?

Or does the new Ebola czar’s directives trump them all? Let’s just say the government’s response to other medical crises in this country doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Again, that’s not the government’s fault as much as it is the nature of the virulent beast. As doctors tell me, things invariably turned beastly. Diseases mutate and protocols get compromised, if not ignored.

The danger right now is that far from reassuring us, the government’s pile-on of protectors scares us. Increasingly we don’t know who to believe, or which agency’s edicts are sound. Klain might or might not mitigate that confusion, but it’s safe to say no self-respecting infectious disease specialist will go along with a protocol he or she finds at medical odds to the public’s safety -- especially when the guy issuing it isn’t from the medical profession itself.

That doesn’t mean Klain isn’t up to the task. It just means he isn’t the only guy with the task. He’s got company -- a lot of company -- and a lot of confusion growing because of it.