TV reporters and other media mobbed a mid-day press conference Thursday at Primary Children's Hospital over news of a potential case of the very scary Ebola virus being confirmed in Utah. But the press conference itself focused on doctors and hospital staff repeating that it was “extraordinarily unlikely” that the case was actually Ebola—but that on the plus side the hospital's preparations for such an event had handled the situation admirably.
But for some, the delivery of the good news didn't exactly offer a dose of calm to the public worried about the virus—especially since recent news of a confirmed Ebola case in Dallas, Texas.
Connor Boyack, head of the libertarian-leaning Libertas Institute
and the author of a recent book Feardom
, about the exploitation of fear by politicians, thought the press conference unfairly played on the public's fears.
“Primary Children's mid-day press conference seemed rather opportunistic, feeding on widespread fear of an Ebola outbreak, when they themselves admitted that it's unlikely their patient has the disease,” Boyack says via e-mail. “As the saying goes, 'where there's smoke, there's fire,' but in this case they seemed to wheel out a smoke machine for the sake of showing they have one and know how to use it.”
Primary Children's Head of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Andrew Pavia explained that for the sake of the patient's privacy there were few details that could be given except that the child had exhibited Ebola-like symptoms and had recently traveled to Africa.
He did stress that since the summer the hospital has adopted new measures and protocol to quickly address potential Ebola cases and that in this situation they were able to use those measures quickly and effectively. While he pointed out it was highly unlikely that it was Ebola the hospital went ahead and submitted a sample from the patient to the Centers for Disease Control for final confirmation that is expected to be returned soon.
“What this has shown is that we're really prepared,” Pavia said. “That if a person shows up with the right symptoms, that systems are in place to identify them, get them in isolation and safely take care of them,” Pavia said.
Comment was not returned from a Primary Children's Hospital spokesperson at the time of this post, but this post will be updated if a comment is returned. At the press event Pavia did say the conference was not meant to be alarmist but to squash any rumors circulating of a confirmed case of Ebola in Utah.
“We wanted to share the information and be as transparent as possible so people didn't think something was going on above and beyond what was actually happening,” Pavia said.
Pamela Brubaker, a Brigham Young University professor of communications specializing in strategic planning in public relations, says she found it odd that a press conference was held, saying if it had been her call she would have released a statement instead.
“A press conference isn't even the first thing you do in a situation like this because it's not necessarily a crisis,” Brubaker says.
That being said, she also understands the advantages of an organization getting out in front of a story instead of explaining after the fact to an irate public why they weren't brought into the loop sooner.
“It's being more proactive than reactive to a situation,” Brubaker says. “They want to help the community feel safe instead of it becoming a negative situation where the public feels like no one is telling them what is going on.”
Pavia did point out at the press conference that if Utahns were worried about Ebola they should consider supporting aid organizations helping with the outbreak of the disease in Africa where it is a crisis and noted that it was not an issue that should worry Utahns. The disease itself he pointed out is not one spread through the air but is contracted only by coming into direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person such as blood, mucous or excrement.
Even if Ebola is not troubling healthcare professionals like Pavia what is clear is that Ebola panic is spreading fast in the United States. An August 21, poll from the Harvard School of Health
found many American were unnecessarily worried about an outbreak in the United States citing 39 percent of respondents, or roughly four in ten adults, “are concerned that there will be a large outbreak in the U.S.”
Two-thirds of those surveyed thought Ebola was transmitted easily, despite evidence to the contrary from groups like the World Health Organization and the CDC