This weekend, several stories appeared in the media related to fear over the spread of Ebola in the U.S. A portion of society is overemphasizing fear and failing to consider the big picture of risk.
In Maine, a teacher who went to a conference in Dallas, Texas was put on leave upon her return based on what may be just one or a few parents who demanded action from the school board. The Strong, Maine elementary school teacher is off for three weeks to ensure she carries no symptoms of Ebola.
Parents had an seemingly irrational reaction to the idea that she was in the metropolitan area where three people were diagnosed with Ebola and one person died. They also cite concern that others, possibly infected, could have been on the plane with her. There is no good evidence for this. There is also no evidence and extremely low odds that she was anywhere near an infected person. School administrators delivered a statement that confirmed this: "We have no information to suggest this staff member has been in contact with anyone who has been exposed to Ebola."
Yet, the school reports several parents were upset the teacher was allowed to attend the conference at all. There is no travel ban to Dallas nor are there any travel restrictions or warnings within the U.S. She had every right and every reason to think that this trip would not pose a hazard to herself, her own family, and her students.
Why did the school administrators overreact? They accepted the precautionary principle.