Should American families be prepping for an Ebola outbreak?
On Tuesday, American physician Craig Spencer spoke publicly at New York’s Bellevue Hospital for the first time after being cured of Ebola, less than a month after he was diagnosed with the viral hemorrhagic fever. Spencer was the last patient in America being treated for the disease. With no new cases of Ebola in the United States, fears of a deadly outbreak have calmed.
But that hasn’t stopped preppers across the nation from readying themselves for an Ebola disaster. Even some lawmakers are urging the public to resist complacency toward the virus. “It’s a big mistake to downplay and act as if ‘oh, this is not a big deal, we can control all this,’” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who also is a doctor, told CNN. “This could get beyond our control.”
Healthcare workers have reported 13,268 Ebola cases in eight affected countries since the start of the outbreak—the vast majority of them occurring in three West African countries—with 4,960 reported deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Almost immediately following confirmation of the first domestic case in Texas, CNBC reported a rush of protective gear sales on Amazon, noting “sales of a type of full-body protective suits were up by 131,000 percent and sales for one type of mask had risen 18,000 percent in 24 hours.”
Websites dedicated to the prepper community—those who want to be able to take care of themselves in the event of any calamity—are capitalizing on the fear of a pandemic, selling everything from face masks to hand sanitizer. One prepper blog and online store, Doom and Bloom, sells a “Deluxe Ebola Pandemic Kit” that includes masks, coveralls, goggles, and biohazard bags. The site is run by Joe Alton, a retired OBGYN and fellow at the American College of Surgeons, and his wife Amy, a nurse. Their medical kit sales are “generally brisk,” Alton told me, and Doom and Bloom’s free resources, including podcasts and a YouTube channel, are popular as well.
Alton told me avoiding panic is critical as U.S. officials continue to navigate their stance on Ebola: “Many more people will die from influenza this winter in the United States than will come down with Ebola.” Even so, he believes preparation for any disaster is always wise.
Alton encourages people to have medical supplies on hand, especially gloves and disinfectant, and to designate a “sick room” at home, if necessary, setting aside dedicated bedding and utensils for family members who might contract a contagious disease. “With a little planning and a few supplies, you’ll succeed, even if everything else fails,” he said.
But critics say the preppers are only making a bad situation worse. Writing for The Daily Banter, Bob Cesa contends the news media has created an Ebola hysteria that is the “arguably more serious pandemic in the United States” and must be stopped before it triggers further panic: “The whole overblown affair has taken on a fictitious, summer disaster movie quality to it even though every epidemiologist in the field says there’s absolutely nothing for Americans to worry about.”
Experts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have consistently said Ebola is difficult to catch. And despite fear the disease would spread through patients who traveled or went out in public before they knew they were infected, two nurses have been the only Americans to catch the deadly virus on U.S. soil.
Still, preppers insist it’s better to be safe then sorry. Daisy Luther, the woman behind the blog Organic Prepper, advocates social isolation as an answer to a possible pandemic and also recommends family lockdown in response to a dramatic spread of the virus. Her blog covers topics such as food storage and personal protective equipment, to help followers get oriented as survivalists.
Luther told me traffic on her blog has noticeably increased over the past month. And she gets hundreds of emails per day from alarmed newbie preppers seeking direction. Ebola is frightening because it is gruesome as well as deadly, said Luther, who tries to direct people to the simplest ways to prepare and “away from the fear factor posts that are out there, causing hysteria.”
Luther herself has a garden, greenhouse and chicken coop to supplement the daily necessities already stockpiled in her pantry, as well as a stored water supply, power outage supplies, and homeschooling curriculum for her child to fall back if schools close. Like Alton, she stresses avoiding panic is crucial to anyone’s prep plan.
“Now is the time to be calm and methodical in your approach,” she said. “Get a notebook, make some lists, and get ready to weather a potential storm. If that storm never happens (and we all pray it doesn’t), nearly all of your supplies will be usable in a variety of situations.”
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