Unable to believe that the strain is Ebola Zaire, Peter Jahrling performs the test again, but gets the same results. He is positive now that the strain from the Reston monkey house is either Ebola Zaire or a closely related mutation. Deciding that he doesn’t have time for a decontamination shower, he calls C. J. Peters using a phone inside his lab. At first Peters is unable to believe that the virus is Ebola Zaire, so Jahrling offers to let him look at the results himself. As Peters heads to the lab, Jahrling writes down his results on a sheet of waterproof paper, decontaminates it, and uses a contraption akin to a mail chute to send the paper to the corridor outside of the Level 4 lab. After looking at the paper, Peters tells Jahrling to decontaminate himself so that they can go see the commander of USAMRIID.
Time, formerly the enemy, now seems to speed up as the researchers take Peter Jahrling’s results up the chain of command at USAMRIID. Their reactions—disbelieving and yet swift—hammer home both what an unbelievable occurrence this is, and how seriously all of the characters are taking it. Faced with a Level 4 virus, they exhibit no complacency or hubris at this point—human emotions that could potentially turn deadly when dealing with a virus like Ebola.
Peter Jahrling and C. J. Peters visit the office of Colonel David Huxsoll, the commander of USAMRIID, and an expert on biohazards. Upon hearing the news, Colonel Huxsoll telephones Major General Philip K. Russell, MD, the commander of the United States Army Medical Research and Development Command to set up a meeting. The men decide that they should also bring in Nancy Jaax. The group enters the office where the general, another virus hunter, meets them. Russell reacts with shock and dismay when he sees the pictures, and is even more disturbed to hear that the strain is closely related to Ebola Zaire. He believes that they are on the verge of a national emergency. He asks the group whether there is any evidence that Marburg can travel through the air. Nancy confirms that this kind of transmission is possible, and the men are upset that she and Gene Johnson (her co-researcher) didn’t make the results of this study more widely available. Jahrling, meanwhile, decides not to tell the general that he may have been exposed to the virus.
Reacting swiftly and seriously, the characters display a sense of teamwork and bravery here that is crucial in combating Ebola. At the same time, however, Preston takes care to note that Jahrling has yet to inform anyone about his and Geisbert’s potential exposure to the virus. This potential misstep complicates the heroism of the USAMRIID employees, reminding readers that they are disciplined military scientists, but also fallible humans. It is this very fallibility, however, that Ebola seems to exploit in order to infect new hosts.
The group begins considering whether this disease is Ebola Zaire or something new entirely, and then they begin to discuss their options. Since there is no vaccine or drug that can stop Ebola, they must turn to a third option: biocontainment. This means either sealing off the monkey house and letting the animals die, or euthanizing all the monkeys, burning their corpses, and dousing the building in sterilizing chemicals. Nancy Jaax asserts that it may be more humane to euthanize the monkeys rather than let them die of Ebola. She also says that she wants to look at the monkeys herself to see if they show symptoms of Ebola, and she wants to look at samples of their tissue under a microscope.
No matter how terrifying Ebola Zaire is, the idea of a different but unknown disease is equally horrific, because of how deadly ignorance can be when dealing with hot viruses. Nancy, meanwhile, displays both compassion and competence, speaking out for the humane treatment of the monkeys while also offering to dissect them. This mixture of kindness and bravery is exactly what makes Nancy such a compelling character within the narrative.
Discussion then turns to whether the Army should get involved, since it’s technically only supposed to respond to military threats. If the Army does begin combating Ebola, it will be stepping on the toes of the C.D.C., whose job it is to “control human disease.” At the same time, the Army does have more manpower and ability than the C.D.C. does. General Russell asserts that this operation will function best if it is staffed by soldiers, because of their discipline and their willingness to die. The group acknowledges, though, that this kind of operation has never been attempted before, and that it may not even be legal. As the conversation grows heated, the general takes charge, saying that he will get the money to fund the operation, that the Army should run it, and that C. J. Peters should be in charge.
The pettiness of human bureaucracy contrasts with the primitive drive of the Ebola virus. Meanwhile, we as readers begin to understand how massive a mission to contain Ebola within the Reston monkey house really would be. This need for military discipline and self-sacrifice emphasizes how dangerous the potential mission is. Those who work with Ebola should always be aware of its deadliness—it’s almost like being at war.
General Russell adds that they need to contact Frederick A. Murphy, the director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases (a branch of the C.D.C.), one of the discoverers of Ebola, and an old friend of Russell’s. He calls Murphy’s office and then his home, and is amused by Murphy’s violent reaction when he hears the news. Murphy says that he must see the electron microscope pictures himself in order to verify the findings.
Yet again another seasoned expert is shocked by the discovery of Ebola on American soil. Frederick Murphy’s reaction makes clear how alarming the virus is, even for scientists who are both brave and experienced.
It is now mid-evening, and the group must contact Dan Dalgard, as well as the Virginia state health authorities. They will also have to notify the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the importation of monkeys, and the EPA, which has control over situations of contamination by a biohazard. They also must get in touch with the assistant secretary of defense, so that the Pentagon is kept in the loop. The group disperses to make phone calls, and C. J. Peters at last reaches Dalgard, who at first reacts with confusion to the news. He is initially relieved, but quickly realizes his mistake when Peters tells him how much worse Ebola is than Marburg. Dalgard asks if the Army will wait until 7 PM before spreading the news, so that he can get in touch with his corporate headquarters. Peters, meanwhile, requests that one of his people enter the Reston monkey house in order to take samples. Dalgard, feeling overwhelmed and helpless, resists. He asks if they can discuss their approach tomorrow over the phone. After the conversation, C. J. Peters tells Nancy Jaax that he wants her on the pone call as well.
The kind of teamwork described in this passage is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is vital to gather the resources necessary to contain the virus before it potentially spreads to the human population. On the other hand, the more governmental agencies get involved in the operation, the more unwieldy and slow it will become, and the more likely it is to be leaked to the general public. Another obstacle, surprisingly enough, is Dan Dalgard, whose fear about his employees and corporations actually keeps him from trusting anyone and makes him uncooperative.
Nancy walks to Jerry’s office and finds him brooding about his brother. She tells him that they’ve found Ebola in Reston, and on the ride home, the two discuss the fact that they will most likely both be involved in an Army operation. Jerry is surprised by the situation, but proud of his wife.
Nancy and Jerry are, themselves, a team, one that functions well because they share the same values: a commitment to human life and a willingness to die for the general good.
When the two get home, Jaime is at gymnastics practice while Jaison is doing his homework. Nancy drives out to pick up her daughter, who falls asleep in the car on the way home. Later that night, after reading in bed together, Nancy and Jerry discuss the monkey house. Jerry stays up late reading about the Battle of Gettysburg, and when he tries to sleep, he has nightmares about his brother.
In a kind of calm before the storm, Nancy and Jerry take a peaceful, ordinary walk outside, their moment of suburban domesticity again emphasizing the vulnerability of any kind of lifestyle—no matter how seemingly sheltered and safe—in the face of lethal viruses.