On Thursday, November 30th, Dan Dalgard wakes up and decides that he should invite the Army in to sterilize Room H, the center of the outbreak. He calls C. J. Peters, and the news immediately spreads through the Institute. Jerry Jaax calls a meeting for all the commissioned officers on his staff: Major Nathaniel Powell, Captain Mark Haines, and Captain Steven Denny. He also includes two sergeants—Sergeant Curtis Klages and Sergeant Thomas Amen—and a civilian animal caretaker named Mehrl Gibson. He asks the men if they want to take on this mission, and all say yes. Jerry realizes that this means both he and Nancy will be inside the building tomorrow. Jerry lays out the facts for his team: they’ll be entering one room of the monkey house at 5 AM, euthanizing the monkeys, and taking samples of tissue. They will be working in spacesuits under Level 4 biocontainment.
The narrative continues to pick up in terms of momentum and intensity as Dan Dalgard makes the crucial (and ultimately correct) decision to allow the Army to euthanize all the infected monkeys. As the circle of people involved in the plan widens, readers once again witness the incredible discipline and bravery of the military officers and scientists who will take part in the operation. This is especially true of Nancy and Jerry Jaax, considering that they will both be put in harm’s way by the operation—leaving no one to take care of their family if they both become infected. Still, the Jaaxes and their peers feel that it is their duty to combat the outbreak.
Gene Johnson, meanwhile, heads out with Sergeant Klages to the monkey house in order to understand its layout. Once they arrive, however, they see a TV news van near the monkey house, and Gene begins to get nervous. USAMRIID is hoping to keep this operation a secret from the press. Circling around the news crew, Johnson and Klages enter the monkey house and are disgusted by the smell of monkey waste—the employees have stopped cleaning the cages. Klages thinks that they shouldn’t even be inside without a spacesuit. The men find Bill Volt in his office, and are ill-at-ease, wondering whether that room too is contaminated—they almost vomit when he offers them a piece of candy.
This visit to the monkey house demonstrates the many potential challenges and dangers of the future operation. For one thing, any mention in the press of what is going on in the facility could generate mass panic, which would only be detrimental to USAMRIID’s efforts. Second, the monkey house’s employees’ fear has made the conditions within the building even more unsanitary and potentially contaminated.
Exploring the building, Gene realizes that he can get to Room H through a series of abandoned offices, so that he doesn’t need to breathe in too much potentially contaminated air. Finding a door that leads to a storeroom, which connects to a corridor that leads into the monkey house, Gene decides that the storeroom will be the preparation area, and the closed corridor will be the airlock. This will allow the Army to work without being observed by reporters. After exploring, Gene tells the employees of the monkey house that the back areas of the building need to be made completely airtight so that no contaminated air gets into the offices. They do so, taping the door to the back monkey rooms shut—but Gene doesn’t realize that there is also another way into those back rooms.
Despite having been told how dangerous Ebola is, employees like Bill Volt still do not seem to understand how perilous their environment might be, and how cautious they must be to avoid infection. Preston’s methodical description of the Army’s detailed plan and the unsanitary working conditions in the monkey house helps readers understand how delicate and dangerous the operation is going to be—and how easily it could go awry in any number of ways.
Later that morning, Nancy Jaax and C. J. Peters head to the corporate offices of Hazleton, Washington to speak to Dan Dalgard, along with some lab employees who have been working with the tissues of the sick monkeys. Joe McCormick arrives as well. The mostly female employees are terrified of their potential exposure, especially because of a recent radio report that had radically over-exaggerated the number of Africans dead because of Ebola. Here Nancy’s and Joe McCormick’s memories differ—Nancy claims that Joe tried to tell them about his experiences in Africa but only frightened them more, while McCormick claims that only Nancy spoke to the women. Nancy asks the women whether anyone has cut themselves on glass or stuck themselves with a needle, and no one comes forward. She reassures the employees that they will be alright.
Even during this time of crisis, it still proves difficult for USAMRIID and the C.D.C. to work together to combat the virus, as evidenced by the different accounts of Nancy Jaax and Joe McCormick. The episode also illustrates the double duty of USAMRIID to the public: on one hand, it is important above all to keep members of the public safe from the virus, while on the other, it is necessary to make sure they don’t panic or leak details to the press. This fine line is a difficult one to walk, but it is crucial for employees of USAMRIID to do so.
Dan Dalgard invites Peters and Nancy to come with him to the monkey house to look at the animals. He does not, however, invite Joe McCormick. The group puts on gloves and surgical masks and enters Room H. Nancy and Peters are alarmed that none of the workers are wearing respirators, but decide that the situation is too delicate to mention this oversight. In Room H, Dalgard points out the animals that look sick, while Nancy tries not to breathe too much. She observes that many of the animals look passive and sick, but even so, she tries not to look in their eyes. Should they spit at her and get saliva in her eyes, she could easily contract Ebola. She also notices that the monkeys have their canine teeth, making them all the more dangerous. Preston notes that a six-foot-tall man and a ten-pound monkey “are pretty evenly matched in a stand-up fight” because of the monkey’s sharp teeth and its overall ferocity. Nancy realizes just how careful Jerry and his team will have to be.
At last, after a potentially detrimental delay, C. J. and Nancy are able to examine the actual animals at the center of the outbreak. What they find is disturbing on multiple counts: for one thing, despite multiple warnings, the workers in the monkey house are not taking any of the necessary precautions to protect themselves against a virus that may or may not be airborne. For another thing, the disease appears to have spread to many of the animals, all of whom are still potentially dangerous. This episode emphasizes how difficult it is to convince people to take the necessary precautions and accept the danger of their situation.
Later that evening Jerry drives home, while Nancy returns to her lab to continue working on the monkey samples. While Jerry is home, he receives a call from Nancy’s brother. Nancy’s father is close to death, and Nancy may need to return home soon for his funeral. Picking up Jaime and Jaison and taking them to McDonalds, Jerry explains that he and Nancy will be putting on spacesuits tomorrow and working a long day in order to deal with an emergency involving a monkey house. His children seem relatively unworried, although they both have trouble sleeping later. Once the kids finally do fall asleep, Jerry sees on the news that a reporter is delivering a story from the monkey house. He is still awake when Nancy comes home at 1 AM. She tells him that she thinks the virus has spread to other rooms in the monkey house. Jerry tells Nancy the news about her father. She contemplates flying to Kansas, but decides that she needs to stay in Virginia and do her duty.
In the midst of this potentially national health crisis, Preston injects a note of the personal and the tragic. This moment reminds us that humans are fragile in many ways, while also emphasizing Nancy’s deep sense of duty and self-sacrifice. It is telling, however, that Preston focuses on Nancy—the only female main character—when describing the balance between work and family. None of the male characters (except Jerry) are assumed to have to make sacrifices like this. Meanwhile, Nancy’s warning about the virus spreading to other rooms only deepens the sense of foreboding. We sense that USAMRIID’s operation in Room H may only be the beginning of a much larger effort to eradicate the virus from the monkey house.