October 20, 2014

EDITORIAL: Balancing a Safe and Conscious Response to Ebola

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On Oct. 16, the University community was notified by email that a ban was being placed on University-related travel to three Ebola-stricken West African nations — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged Americans to avoid. Students, faculty and staff seeking to travel to these countries for study abroad, research, internships, service, conferences, presentations, teaching, performances, recruiting or athletic competitions may file an appeal for an exemption from the travel prohibition. Further, Gannett Health Services’ resources for potential travelers to affected nations and its preparedness for a potential local outbreak of the disease were highlighted. The email, while acknowledging the complexity and devastating nature of the epidemic, informed students of the disease’s rarity outside of West Africa, and noted that the United States’ health infrastructures’ ability to limit its spread. We at The Sun commend the University for its efforts to promote an informed sense of calm while not understating the severity of the Ebola crisis. The proactive measures being taken to both avert and prepare for the contraction of Ebola by members of the University community are to be applauded. However, we have concerns about the nature of the travel ban and its implications for research and service.

We at The Sun believe that as the Ebola crisis progresses, Cornell must not abdicate its responsibilities as a leading international research institution. Those in charge of the appeals process should be generous in granting exemptions to students and faculty seeking to partake in the international response to the virus in the three countries where it has reached epidemic proportions. This can be done without endangering the health of others; a nationwide prohibition on travel to crisis areas in West Africa is currently not in place because the Obama administration has been informed by experts that a travel ban would be less effective than measures currently in place, such as the screening of travelers. So long as they adhere to the national protocols prescribed by public health experts and the federal government, members of the University community should not be arbitrarily and unnecessarily barred from participating in meaningful aid and research-related travel to West Africa. As a leading research institution, the University should not shy away from facilitating and devoting resources to these philanthropic and humanitarian efforts.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that the University faces in addressing the latest developments in the Ebola outbreak is maintaining a balanced response to the crisis. While we caution against frivolous and counterproductive limitations on certain types of travel to crisis-stricken areas, we also urge transparency regarding any unpreparedness that the University may face in the event of a local outbreak. This past January, The Sun reported that Gannett is currently unable to “accommodate current campus health needs.” Although its planned expansion will not be completed for several years, Gannett must be promptly equipped with additional resources to ensure that its facilities and staff are adequately prepared for a local public health crisis.

With the World Health Organization designating two previously affected African nations “Ebola-free” and the international community intensifying its efforts to curb the disease’s spread, we believe that there is reason to be prudently optimistic about the future of the crisis. A balanced, thorough and responsible University response has the potential to both further these international efforts and secure the confidence and health of its students, faculty and staff.