Sunday, October 12, 2014

THE CURTAINS FLEW

A breach of protocol — that's all. Just a little whoops in the mechanism, no need for alarm, and that's the way it has to be played because panic is not an option.

It's the only response for the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as he spins the news that a health-care worker who treated Thomas Duncan has now tested positive for Ebola.

But even as he reassures the public, Frieden can't keep the bogeyman from creeping in. Asked how a worker in full protective garb could become infected with the virus, Frieden says:

"I think the fact that we don't know of a breach in protocol is concerning, because clearly there was a breach in protocol."

It made me think of Contagion, the feel-good slice of dystopia that featured Gwyneth Paltrow dying in Act I.

("That's like Paris Hilton in House of Wax," a friend wryly noted. "You're not sure whether to be happy or scared.")

Contagion is an appropriate movie to include in the list of horror flicks for Halloween 2014. Far more fitting than anything featuring Freddy or Michael or Jason — welcome to our Nightmare on All Streets.

I believe in science so I know the odds of Ebola being a beast of Revelation are somewhere in the neighborhood of me winning the Powerball jackpot. It's a hard virus to spread, and we have the protocols in place to make sure it doesn't spread.

And yet ... the epidemic continues to rage in West Africa, growing by the day, and at night it's easy to recall the worries of the man who helped find and name Ebola — his fears that this outbreak will make its way to India, a republic of 1.2 billion people where workers at public health facilities routinely don't wear gloves or masks.

At night it's easy to wonder about the vast machinery to keep contagions from spreading in the U.S., all those cogs clicking like clockwork, and how if just one of those cogs freezes ... the cascade of catastrophe is breathtaking. The reporter in me contemplates covering the story of a lifetime and wondering how long it would take for society to disintegrate into packs of wolves.

At night it's easy to envision a future after the herd is thinned. It probably won't be from this Ebola outbreak; the flu is the likely culprit, and when that happens I hope Stephen King is one of the survivors 'cause he called it, dude. Never mind that his virus was lab-made. Even street bugs can knock you on your ass. A hundred million victims of the 1918 flu (from China, or Kansas, of France, we're still not quite sure) would vouch for that.

These things happen at night, and when they do I try to turn off the engine between my big ears so I can hear the tick of it cooling, the clicks that will take me to Dreamland. So far the fears of Ebola have not infected that landscape, where lately I've been talking with cats and strolling among peonies. It's a good place to be right now, in the scary season.

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