I am a nurse who has just returned to the U.S. after working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone – an Ebola-affected country. I have been quarantined in New Jersey. This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me.
I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine…
I sat alone in the isolation tent and thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?
White House officials are pushing Govs. Cuomo and Chris Christie to dial down their mandatory quarantine rules and let the feds decide how to keep the deadly Ebola virus from spreading in the United States, sources told The Post on Sunday.
“They are furious [with Cuomo and Christie] and can’t believe they rolled out [the regulations] without consultation, particularly since it’s still all federal officials doing the screening at the airports,” one source told The Post…
Sources also said that aides to President Obama had called both Cuomo — a fellow Democrat — and New Jersey Gov. Christie, a possible Republican presidential candidate, to criticize the orders they jointly announced Friday.
“We have let the governors of New York, New Jersey, and others states know that we have concerns with the unintended consequences that policies not grounded in science may have on efforts to combat Ebola at its source in West Africa,” a senior administration official said.
Right on cue, as if in an attempt to push the discussion ever further toward irrelevancy, the twin towers of presidential posturing, Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, agreed to hog the spotlight together in order to get presidentially tough over an issue that needed no decisiveness at all: What to do about the small trickle of health-care volunteers who return to the States from West Africa? Tired, apparently, of all the goddamned evidenced-based pussy-footing coming from people who understand science and public health, the Two Big Guys made their kick-butt pronouncement: They are throwing those weenie volunteers into the 21-day slammer, no ifs or ands or buts. Goddammit…
But the real situation is far more complex than the simple, thuggish gubernatorial action suggests. Indeed, there is a consequence to Christie and Cuomo’s decision that endangers the safety of the rank and file of New Jersey and New York far more than it protects it. Searching for a bump in some internal poll or perhaps because it feels good to make a damn decision once in a while, the governors know but choose to ignore the obvious big fact: There is a larger crisis occurring in redoubts well beyond Trenton and Albany. Their move, though perhaps it plays well now, will have a desiccating impact on volunteerism; this in turn will make the African epidemic worse, which will make it more likely cases will appear in the United States, which will increase the risk of Ebola for John Q. Public as he wanders through Trenton and Albany, Brooklyn and Newark.
The episode illustrated the unpredictable risks of playing politics with a lethal virus. In a campaign season that has been more fear than hope, Ebola becme the boss villain in the parade of horribles—from the rise of the Islamic State to the rocky economy to the “war on women.” Politicians from both parties have pandered to the anxieties of the electorate, jockeying to position themselves as tough leaders capable of keeping voters safe in the absence of presidential leadership…
For Christie, the panic wrought by the lethal virus may have seemed a prime opportunity to run his favorite play: the one where the tough leader takes a common-sense stand in the face of federal dithering. This is the move that drew bipartisan plaudits after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Jersey shore in 2012, and one Christie may hope will propel a possible presidential candidacy in 2016. The play has worked swimmingly when run against teachers’ unions, or bungling bureaucrats, or “idiots” loitering on a stretch of beach in the face of an oncoming storm.
It doesn’t wear as well when the target is a nurse who risked her life to fight a deadly disease.
Norman Siegel, a civil rights lawyer, said Kaci Hickox’s isolation upon her return from West Africa raised “serious constitutional and civil liberties issues,” given that she shows no Ebola symptoms and has not tested positive for the disease.
“We’re not going to dispute that the government has, under certain circumstances, the right to issue a quarantine,” said Siegel, who was on his way to visit Hickox in a New Jersey hospital. “The policy is overly broad when applied to her.”…
The lawsuit will argue that Hickox’s constitutional right to due process was violated when she was forced into isolation, Siegel said.
State officials implemented a blanket policy without identifying a rational basis for confining asymptomatic individuals like Hickox, he said.
Perhaps the ACLU, which is also questioning the current quarantine, thinks that due process has expanded so much that it might even prohibit this most traditional use of the police power. I doubt it. There are extremely few contexts where the state can deprive someone of liberty without any showing of wrongdoing, or any personal conduct whatsoever: conscription, quarantine, and in a milder fashion, jury service. The case law basis for conscription goes back only to 1918 (also the time of the first widespread quarantines n the U.S.), but it has proven impervious to a liberalized due process clause. Quarantine is safe too.
Moreover, 20th century quarantine cases have typically death with tuberculosis and small pox, both of which are far less lethal than Ebola, and about which much more was known. (The most common form of smallpox had a 30% fatality rate, less than half that of Ebola.) All this shifts the presumption of validity even more towards the state…
The long incubation period and deadly effects all counsel for allowing a deprivation of liberty without any showing of illness. Locking a patient up after they develop a fever simply does not substitute for doing so in advance.
As New Jerseyans remain riveted to the unfolding news surrounding Ebola, they are more confident in the state’s ability to contain the virus than the federal government’s, according to a new Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll.
“The results seem to clearly point to the fact that a series of high profile missteps have created a fear and distrust in the eyes of the public,” said Michael Avaltroni, dean of FDU’s School of Pharmacy. “While Ebola transmissions have, to this point, been extremely isolated, the perception has been that the federal government has been caught off guard. That, mixed with a great deal of public misinformation about the disease and its transmission patterns, has led to a great deal of concern amidst a mainstream and social media frenzy.”
The poll was conducted from Oct. 13 through Oct. 19 — prior to the Friday announcement by Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo of New York that anybody traveling into Newark Liberty International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York from the three West African countries would be quarantined for 21 days.
[M]ost Americans find the idea of short-term quarantines to be not as radical as they seem to a media that might be invested in, oh, I don’t know, a pre-election narrative that things aren’t being poorly managed by, say, the Obama administration. To just take one hypothetical.
Yes, our media are beyond trusting of what they term “expert” opinion, while most Americans have noticed that experts might not be as expert as they themselves think they are…
Gorman notes that some say that involuntary quarantine is less effective than voluntary and that it comes at such a huge expense as to be not worthwhile. Still, she cautions those concerned to offer alternatives to dealing with public health threats, such as using hospitals instead of prisons, having judges sign off on quarantines, and reimbursing for lost wages and property.
Involuntary quarantine, even in times of public health threats, should be taken seriously. It would be sad if the media’s fear of fear and panic panic made such conversations more difficult to have.
There’s a lack of faith in the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and other health care institutions that overstated the certitude of the science behind Ebola, the preparedness of the U.S. health care system, and the efficiency of their own protocols…
When the initial case of Ebola rattled a Dallas hospital, doctors and administrators blamed nurses for overlooking the patient’s trip to Liberia. Turns out, doctors overlooked nurses’ warnings. When a nurse who treated the first patent became infected, officials accused her of violating their protocols. Turns out, the protocols weren’t in place…
Countless polls suggest that the public has lost faith in all institutions, particularly the media and politics, which is how a health care heroine such as Hickox finds herself confined to a tent, when a parade is in order. When we don’t know whom to trust, when there’s no sane center of American discourse, extreme and outrageous things occur.
“I think this is a policy that will become a national policy sooner rather than later,” Christie said of the mandatory quarantine. Unfortunately, given the lack of honest leadership around us, I trust he’s right.
“To put me in prison,” she said, “is just inhumane.”
“My job is not to represent her. My job is to represent the people of New Jersey.”