The Hot Zone

Explain how the meeting could turn into a power struggle between the CDC and the Army.


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Colonel Peters calls a meeting with General Russell, Peter Jahrling, Dan Dalgard, Gene Johnson, Joe McCormick, and officials from the C.D.C. and the Virginia Board of Health. Upon the recommendation of General Russell, the group agrees to split management of the operation: while the C.D.C. will coordinate the potential human effects of the outbreak, the Army will manage the monkey house, beginning with the formation of a team to be led by Jerry Jaax. The following day, Jerry Jaax calls the first meeting of his team and outlines a plan to enter the monkey house, euthanize the monkeys in one of the rooms, and take tissue samples back to USAMRIID.

In this section of the book, Preston details the testing and initial planning phase of the USAMRIID and the C.D.C. in addressing the outbreak at the Reston facility. During the outbreak of Ebola Zaire in 1976, the government of Zaire takes immediate steps to quarantine the hospital and isolate the infected villages in the Bumba district. The process at USAMRIID is much more deliberate, with various meetings and discussions occurring before Jerry Jaax takes his team to the facility. While it is clear that the operation will be well-funded, Preston notes many bureaucratic obstacles, including the lengthy list of which organizations must be officially informed, including the Fairfax County Health Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protective Agency, and the Assistant Secretary of Defense.

Preston also highlights the argument over which organization will coordinate which part of the operation. Joe McCormick and C.J. Peters are both anxious to coordinate the full operation, but not because they are concerned about the potential scope of the virus. Instead, their decision is based on mutual dislike and professional rivalry. The final decision for the operation to be split is not necessarily made for the sake of how to best contain the virus, but instead, to keep the peace between organizations. Preston points out that the leadership at USAMRIID is still unable to access the Reston facility without Dalgard’s permission. Because the facility is privately-owned, they have no legal authority, despite having confirmed the presence of a filovirus. Given these bureaucratic delays, the reader cannot help but wonder what would happen if the facility is actually infected with Ebola Zaire or a virus with a similar human kill rate.