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Why Has Ebola Czar Nicole Lurie Been MIA?
Preparedness: Earlier this week, Sen. John McCain called for an Ebola czar, not knowing one already effectively exists. Why should he, since Nicole Lurie, M.D., M.S.P.H., has been completely M.I.A.
You have to wonder sometimes if anyone in a leadership position in the Obama administration bothers to show up to work these days.
Case in point is Dr. Nicole Lurie, who arguably should be front and center in planning for and responding to the Ebola outbreak.
After all, it's right there in her job title. She's the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, a position created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that reports directly to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Her mission, according to the HHS website, is "to lead the nation in preventing, responding to and recovering from the adverse health effects of public health emergencies."
Lead? Well, maybe she's leading from behind, because Lurie's been nowhere to be found since Ebola showed up on U.S. soil.
"You can barely find any mention of her in the news," notes The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway, who was first to point out this invisible leader.
Then again, it could be that, like everyone else in the Obama administration, Lurie's just not up to the job.
After all, on Sept. 11, Lurie told the Washington Post that her office was diligently working with other federal agencies "to ensure that U.S. health care providers, hospitals, health clinics, emergency medical services ... have the information they need to be prepared to identify and treat Ebola infections, in case anyone in the United States becomes sick after traveling from affected countries or from contact with infected individuals."
Two weeks later, Ebola-infected Thomas Duncan showed up at the Texas Presbyterian Health Hospital with a high fever after returning from Liberia, only to be discharged with a prescription for antibiotics.
If it seems as though the U.S. is rudderless against the rising Ebola tide, it's not for a lack of resources or agencies in the federal government.
It's because there's a glaring lack of competent leaders in the Obama administration.
Nicole Lurie, M.D., M.S.P.H., is the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Lurie is a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.
The Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response serves as the Secretary's principal advisor on matters related to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies. The ASPR also coordinates interagency activities between HHS, other Federal departments, agencies, and offices, and State and local officials responsible for emergency preparedness and the protection of the civilian population from acts of bioterrorism and other public health emergencies.
 The mission of her office is to lead the nation in preventing, responding to and recovering from the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters. Dr. Lurie was nominated to the position by President Obama on May 12, 2009 and her confirmation by the U.S. Senate was announced by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on July 10, 2009.
Led by The Federalist website her absence from the media has been noted with regards to the events of the Ebola virus disease affair.
In a paper published Oct. 14 in the journal PLOS Currents: Outbreaks, Drexel University's Dr. Charles N. Haas argues that there's not enough evidence to support the recommended 21-day quarantine period for people suspected of harboring the virus.
"Twenty-one days has been regarded as the appropriate quarantine period for holding individuals potentially exposed to the Ebola virus to reduce the risk of contagion, but there does not appear to be a systemic discussion for the basis of this period," Hass said in a written statement.
Hass argues in the paper that outbreaks of Ebola in Zaire (1976) and Uganda (2000), as well as data from the first nine months of the current outbreak, suggest that there could be up to a 12-percent chance that someone could begin showing symptoms of Ebola after 21 days, according to the statement.
As Haas put it in an email to The Huffington Post, "the risk is certainly not zero of anyone beyond 21 days converting to symptomatic."
And as reported by the Washington Post, a paper published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that Ebola incubation times can be longer than that. According to the paper, "approximately 95%" of patients studied began to show symptoms within 21 days of exposure.
If 21 days is too short, what's the right length for an Ebola quarantine? Haas doesn't say.
"This is really a policy decision that needs to be made balancing the various costs, and other considerations such as personal liberty, that are involved," he told HuffPost Science. "There needs to be a formal deliberative process involving quantitative modelers along with economists and those familiar with regulatory and legal considerations."
An email seeking comment from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention went unanswered. Check back for updates.