A Boeing 757 jetliner touches down at Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport, following a 90-minute trip from Miami. It’s a packed flight on a warm Wednesday afternoon. By the time all 200 passengers deplane, walk across the pavement and line up inside the arrivals hall, many are red-faced, sweaty and out-of-breath.
Making matters more uncomfortable, the hall is already crowded with passengers from flights that landed right before. One passenger from Miami — a doctor whose itinerary had originated on the East Coast — feels rather faint. He excuses himself from the immigration line and steps into the restroom. When he exits, the line has dwindled somewhat, and he only waits a few minutes before reaching an immigration officer.
“Do you have your Travelers Questionnaire?” the officer asks, referring to the official card the Cayman Islands government has been making visitors fill out since the Ebola virus scare began in October.
“Yes,” the doctor says, wanly, handing it to her.
To the question: “Have you spent any time in Africa in the past four weeks?” — the doctor responds, “Yes,” in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
“Did you care for or were you in contact with an Ebola patient?” — the doctor responds, “Yes.” In fact, he was performing charity medical work and was in contact with many Ebola patients the entire time.
The immigration officer looks down at the card, then up at the Ebola doctor, and pauses …
What happens next?
That is the practical question about Ebola that Cayman officials have not been able to answer satisfactorily, notwithstanding their grand public pronouncement last fall that they were embarking on a $3 million Ebola preparation plan, including paying for a field hospital, specialized equipment, staff training and supplies.
The declaration appeared at the time, and certainly appears now, to have been an expensive, quixotic, knee-jerk reaction by our government to the prevailing hyperbole and fear over a danger that, though very real in West Africa, was always extremely remote to our Caribbean islands.
Cayman’s first line of defense against Ebola was the Travelers Questionnaire referenced in the scenario above. That 5-inch by 5-inch card, we’ll note, contains numerous mistakes — including the misspellings “Questionaire” and “Fligth” — elementary errors that should never sit side-by-side with the Cayman crest.
(As an aside, readers may recall the nearest thing Cayman had to a “trial run” for Ebola, occurred in late October when a swarm of medics and emergency responders scrambled to East End after a tourist from New York called in complaining about flu-like symptoms. The illness turned out to be not Ebola, but most likely the flu.)
As far as we can tell, the best thing Cayman officials did during their $3 million Ebola response was to fail to spend the $3 million. (Admittedly, information has been rather scarce, as health officials did not provide details on the plan to the Compass, despite persistent inquiries over months.)
Taken altogether, Cayman’s non-response to Ebola can be summed up in two words: 1) Panic. 2) Spend.
But back to our original question — What happens if Ebola arrives in Cayman?
Perhaps Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar gave the best (albeit off-the-cuff) response:
“If this becomes a pandemic, and there are thousands of cases that are occurring, well, I think that God will take care of it.”