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Obama Gets It Right on the Quarantine

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.

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93 Responses to Obama Gets It Right on the Quarantine

  1. I have a FB friend who was born in Nigeria and did his medical training there. He is a physician (now in this country) specializing in high-risk pregnancies in NJ. He is very liberal in his political beliefs (loves Obama & Hillary.) Here is a portion of what he posted about the doctor who rode the subway and went bowling prior to being diagnosed with Ebola….” All who care for Ebola victims should be placed in a mandatory quarantine until proven to be Ebola free!” He is also not sure that we know exactly HOW Ebola is spread.

  2. Tweet of the Day:

    Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend to SecDef Chuck Hagel all troops returning from West Africa undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine.

    Fox News Pentagon correspondent Justin Fishel

      • The troops will be sent to Italy for 21 days, before they can come back to the USA. I don’t know how the Italians are taking this – it’s OK to send our guys there but not home?
        Everybody is getting too soft on the quarantine too quickly – if you have to inconvenience people who may be at risk – do it!
        Remember that twit Dr. in NYC thought he was OK?

  3. Until someone can explain how careful professional healthcare providers contracted this disease, then everyone who has been in contact with, or cared for anyone with ebola should be quarantined until it’s proven they are not infected too.

    The doctor who spent his return to the US by visiting and exposing this virus to as many people as possible for one man is the poster person for involuntary quarantine.
    This isn’t a PC issue, nor is it a constitutional issue, it’s a human issue.

  4. Kaci Hickox per her resume is a current employee of the CDC. She worked for doctors with out borders over 2 years ago. So what was a CDC worker doing working for DWOB now. Was she? Or is this some psyc opp for the CDC? This does not pass the smell test.

    Look her up on Linkedin and see what I mean. She has been working for the CDC for the last 2.5 years.
    Obola does not want to restrict any travel and this looks to be a set up to help that agenda.

  5. Completely and utterly disagree. Health workers who have dealt with this–of all people–should know the need for caution and accept Q as part of the job–even demand it! Watch that 60 Minutes segment I mentioned–those people were heroes and are self-monitoring like mad. Others, apparently, have been less zealous.

    • I do not think we will have a big outbreak here–but there will be more cases and I am skeptical of the no symptoms/no danger thing and even of the 21 days–Drexel Univ has questioned the latter. Let’s be smart even if it’s a sacrifice. I wrote several weeks ago that I had reported on quarantines a few yrs ago and they were debating whether the govt could SHOOT someone who left a Q facility. This is serious stuff.

    • I was thinking that–maybe a luxury hotel–but who would go to it after…Also they could infect each other…I wonder if ankle bracelets would do it–more supervision, less self-administered.

    • I agree with you, and sorry to say, they will just have to consider it part of their sacrifice. I admire them for what they are doing but we have to have strict rules which we do not bend, even for them.

      But, as Keith said, the problem and arguments could have been solved–and still can be solved–with a commercial travel ban on the affected countries.

  6. As a child I contracted scarlet fever and the mumps at the same time. I was deathly ill and after the doctor made a house call (remember those?), my mother, brothers (who also came down with mumps), and I were quarantined at home. My father, who had never had mumps and who was at work when the quarantine went into effect, was not allowed to come home until we were all well.

    That was in 1960 and we managed to survive, even with our front door taped with a big orange ribbon across it. I guess we weren’t special enough snowflakes to “protest” the county health department’s treatment of us. Thinking back, we watched cartoons on TV all day and didn’t mind not going to school ;)

      • At that point there were four of us kids & mom had had a hysterectomy so no sterility worries. I think our dad just didn’t care to be cooped up in the house with us & he preferred going to work rather than helping our mom out. His brief stay at a local motel was probably like a vacation.

    • I am old enough to remember when a friend of my parents, way back in the 1950’s was diagnosed with TB. He spent a year and half at Devorah Hospital in NJ until he got a clean bill of health. AND neither his wife or his children could have personal contact with him.

    • I also do not think we are “making a pariah” of them–they have to understand this even better than we do.

      My dad worked in the polio wards as a resident–and I got polio–he always felt horrible…Somehow that virus went home with him–or else I got it from a drinking fountain or someplace–the swimming pools were closed.

  7. You have to balance this nurse’s threats to sue with the two doctors not really self-regulating themselves. Running around NYC on the subway, going bowling, breaking quarantine to go out for fast food?

  8. I have to disagree with you, Kieth.

    Anyone who went over there to help keep people healthy is, by definition, not selfish and should accept another 21 days of quarantine to keep everyone safe over here.

    Not sure why this one complained.

  9. ” I have seen no evidence that Ebola is communicable as long as people are not showing symptoms”. Yes, but the symptoms come on rather quickly, Keith. Also, the idea of a 21 day quarantine is a joke. Research has found that men who have recovered from Ebola have the virus still in their semen 40 days AFTER contracting the disease. This info comes directly from Dr.Peter Piot, the Dr. who isolated the 1st case of Ebola and gave the virus it’s name. Ebola is a river in Sudan.

  10. I have to respectfully disagree with Mr Koffler and disrespectfully disagree with Obama. The simple fact that we are even having this conversation demonstrates that the strain or strains of Ebola that are causing this massive epidemic are far more easily transmitted than previous outbreaks. The fact that well trained Doctors and nurses from Western aid groups are getting infected confirms this. Now that the epidemic has surged to over 10,000 cases, it is far, far beyond the capability of even US and European health care workers to treat the victims. The only hope is to implement strict quarantine to contain the virus within the various households, villages, neighborhoods, cities and countries that are currently infected. Keeping the virus contained in Africa while we develop treatments and vaccines is infinitely preferable to well intentioned but futile efforts to treat the victims.

  11. Edit: One interesting fact I forgot to mention>> It has been observed through research that Ebola can survive for several days on a dried out surface (such as a bathroom sink, kitchen counter, etc.).

  12. Cuomo and Christie have already won this battle. They will force Obama to make a decision. Everything you say is true Keith about needing to cure and contain in Africa. Thus, we certainly do need to heed incentives and disincentives for people willing to be part of the cure. But human nature is that some people who know better will not take it seriously. And people who know next to nothing will opine because CDC has left a complete vacuum of protocol and information here, despite CDC costing us $7 billion a year and despite this challenge being central to their Mission.

    If you recall 2008 or any of the multiple crises between then and now, Obama simply does not act. He waits-and-sees. Sometimes this works out for him, as when McCain suspended his campaign and was ridiculed while Obama looked calm (although without leadership or ideas). Cuomo and Christie will force him to act. If the final solution is somewhere in the middle then I will thank Cuomo and Christie for forcing Obama to the table and spurring (finally) a constructive debate.

    A deep-sea diver does not rush to the surface. They stop several times at depths to decompress. That is not an imposition but rather something they do for their own health. Ebola needs a similar decompression period before the healthcare worker is allowed back into society. As we learn more about it we can adjust the guidance. Until then, better safe than sorry. Let’s negotiate a fair way to decompress without risk to others. If obama can do his job on the Vineyard, surely we can setup Skype and ways for doctors to get back to work while they decompress.

    CDC has dropped the ball despite very lavish funding. They have totally failed to be proactive here, and that failure cost the initial two workers catching the disease. Thank goodness the two nurses seem to be ok.

    I thank the doctors and nurses trying to help. I also thank Cuomo and Christie for giving CDC and Obama the swift kick they needed.

  13. I am looking forward to the “hug” photo when Samantha Powers returns from her tour of Western Africa. She’s making a pit stop in Belgium on her way back to the states.

  14. I read somewhere that Samaritan’s Purse, who Dr. Brantly works or worked for, quarantines their doctors before allowing them to return to the US. If that is true, why doesn’t Doctors Without Borders do the same?

    As for Ms. Hickox, something about her story just doesn’t add up.

  15. By the way, these doctors and nurses without borders willingly go to places with horrible sanitation even without a deadly virus lurking around–I am sure some are half-sick all the time from the food and local fauna. They should not be strongarmed when they come back, but probably most will not be daunted by living in a temporary building of some sort, paid, and fed good Am food. I am assuming, yes–I don’t know for sure–but they have my admiration on what they put up with–at least so far.

  16. Call me silly but…. I thought I heard today that US Armed Forces serving in West Africa will be sent to Italy to spend 21 days before returning to their duty in the USA. This applies to the National Guard troops recently sent to this region.

    QUESTION: Why is it we quarantine our own troops ( in another country) for 21 days yet we don’t hold others to the same protocol?

    Call me silly…..

    H

  17. “Making them pariahs upon their return and totally disrupting their lives will harm efforts to combat the illness over there,”

    Are we making them pariahs or asking them to protect us here at home? I’m not sure why you load the emotional burden of the word “pariah” onto what is simply a precautionary measure.

    And didn’t they “totally disrupt their lives” when they chose to to go Africa? Why should anyone who has been exposed to Ebola be bowling, picking up soup, flying in airplanes, planning weddings, riding subways, and the other things that medical professionals have done apparently because they were bored from staying at home or just couldn’t bear to have plans disrupted or tastes unindulged.

    Just make it part of the planning — go to Africa, fight Ebola, come home, spend some time in quarantine to prevent SPREADING Ebola here in America. Why have these people be heroes in Africa and sources of infection in the USA?