The White House was correct this weekend to pressure New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to change their short-sighted, misguided Ebola quarantine policies, which are more likely to harm than help the citizens of their states.
President Obama, of course, has only himself to thank for the governors taking matters into their own hands. The current federal policy, which as far as I can tell is for those who have been exposed to Ebola patients to monitor themselves, is clearly insufficient, and the government’s approach to Ebola has been shifting constantly in response to events. Obama is late on this one too, convening a gathering of top administration officials Sunday to figure out a policy.
And clearly, a travel ban on foreigners entering the country from the affected countries, opposed by Obama, is in order.
But the administration is correct about that health workers coming from West Africa should not be quarantined. Health workers who return from fighting Ebola in Africa should be forcibly monitored, with their health status checked several times a day. If they don’t agree, then they should be quarantined. But not otherwise. Because . . .
- THE BEST WAY TO STOP EBOLA IS TO STOP IT IN AFRICA. If you tell health workers from the United States that they will be quarantined upon return for 21 days, they are less likely to go to Africa. It’s already major big sacrifice. Making them pariahs upon their return and totally disrupting their lives will harm efforts to combat the illness over there, thus making it more likely it will rage like a wildfire and come over here, possibly after having mutated to become more communicable. If you are scared of Ebola, you should be VERY scared of us doing less to fight it while it is still difficult to transmit.
- Ebola is in fact difficult to get. I have seen no evidence that Ebola is communicable as long as people are not showing symptoms, and none so far that it can be spread via the air like flu, unless of course someone sneezes on you, a possibility that is too easily dismissed by the “you can’t get it on a bus” crowd. But non-symptom showing health workers who have treated Ebola patients are not a danger.
- What are we going to do with healthcare workers in the United States who treat Ebola? They are clearly at elevated risk for the disease. Are we going to quarantine them until the outbreak subsides in six months or a year?
Obama should not just push back on these governors, he should overrule them.
Don’t get me wrong, there are usually few things worse in my book than the federal government, especially this federal government trumping the states.
But containing the spread of Ebola is an imperative involving the health of all Americans, not just those in New Jersey and New York or Illinois and Florida, which are instituting similar quarantines. The president should make a determination that combating Ebola in Africa is a national security exigency that trumps the calculations of local officials.