Ebola has aroused a number of reactions, from blasé to panicked. New York and New Jersey panicked.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends: immediate evaluation and possible 21-day quarantine of a symptomatic person; 21-day monitoring and other restrictions, depending on the risk level, according to a table found here: CDC Ebola Monitoring Information
The CDC recommendations were apparently followed nationally. Then Dr. Craig came home.
Dr. Spencer, who worked with Doctors Without Borders treating Ebola patients in Guinea, returned to New York City on October 17, 2014. Exhibiting no symptoms, then some sluggishness, Dr. Spencer acted like a New Yorker: he jogged, rode the subway, took a taxi, went bowling, ate at the Meatball Shop in the West Village, etc. On Thursday, October 23rd, he was diagnosed with Ebola and New York’s and New Jersey’s Governors went into high gear.
On Friday, October 24th, both New York and New Jersey announced mandatory 21-day quarantine for any person entering the United States through Newark Liberty and Kennedy International Airport if that person had direct contact with Ebola patients in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, whether or not that quarantined person is symptomatic. Enter: Kaci Hickox, a nurse who worked with Ebola patients in West Africa and landed at Newark Liberty Airport mere hours after the new requirement was imposed.
Hickox, who has never exhibited Ebola symptoms, described her hours-long detention at the airport as “a frenzy of disorganization”: the mandatory quarantine was so new that officials did not know exactly how to enforce it. She was transported to Newark’s University Hospital, where she was housed for 3 days in a tent within a separate building, lavishly furnished with a hospital bed, a port-a-pot, no shower and no communication with the outside world, other than the cellphone that she insisted on retaining.
A bold American and no shrinking West African violet, Hickox went public in a big way, relaying her story to national media. She also hired a Civil Rights attorney, claiming that her mandatory quarantine is unconstitutional. The medical community also criticized the mandatory quarantine, claiming that it was an overreaction unsupported by science and a serious deterrent to the 19,000+ volunteer doctors and nurses needed to treat Ebola patients in West Africa. Even the White House got in on the act, pressuring the Governors to compromise.
At least on the face of it, the Governors of New Jersey and New York are empowered to do exactly what they did: New Jersey’s state law gives its Department of Health the power to “maintain and enforce proper and sufficient quarantine wherever deemed necessary”; New York’s Public Health Law states that a health officer shall guard against communicable diseases “by the exercise of proper and vigilant medical inspection and control of all persons and things infected with or exposed to such diseases.” Nevertheless, swatted by so many umbrellas from so many disapproving sectors, New Jersey’s Governor Christy caved while claiming that he certainly did not cave. Hickox was removed from quarantine in New Jersey because she was symptom-free for 24 hours and was taken by private carrier to her home state of Maine. Governor Christy stressed that if Hickox had been a New Jersey resident, she would still be kept in quarantine for the required 21 days.
Hickox is currently under voluntary quarantine in her home. In fact, when Maine officials went to court in an attempt to impose restrictions until the 21-day period is up (on November 10th), Hickox won that battle, too. The judge ruled that since she is not exhibiting symptoms, she is not infectious and therefore cannot be unduly restricted. The judge did rule that she should continue daily monitoring and coordinate any of her travel with state officials to facilitate monitoring.
The quarantine rollercoaster ride has ended, at least until the next Ebola volunteer lands.
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