Quarantine Procedures: Who Should Be Deciding and Doing?

Ebola is a serious, deadly disease and we currently have no cure for it. That simple statement of fact is something that’s being pretty much derided in our media and, at least until recently, by the current federal Administration. After multiple assurances that there were safeguards in place and that screening at the originating airports in Africa would do the job, we got to see a medical professional – a doctor with Doctors Without Borders, no less – enter the country and spend a few days mixing it up with the populace of New York City before being diagnosed with Ebola. The prompted state officials in New York, New Jersey and Illinois to act, announcing a mandatory 21-day quarantine period for travelers who have been in areas exposed to the disease. The details of how they’re handling that quarantine aren’t too well publicized, yet, but the first person getting to run that gauntlet isn’t happy about it.

The story says that there’s a wide gap to be crossed between having a quarantine policy and a quarantine protocol. I happen to agree with that. I also agree with the policy in general. Too many people have been making too big a deal about, apparently, how difficult it is to contract the disease and they make noises about not worrying about people until they’re showing symptoms. My response to that is that there were medical professionals in a hospital that knew full well what they were dealing with and two of them contracted the disease in spite of that. Yes, I know all about the equipment problems and the lack of proper training in this kind of high-risk disease. That doesn’t mitigate the fact that the hospital staff was in far, far better position to control the spread of a disease than the average subway commuter in New York and they still contracted Ebola. Personally, I think we don’t know enough, yet, to say for certain just how easy it is to contract the disease. Until we know then we should be taking whatever measures are necessary to halt the spread of Ebola in the US, even if that means implementing a 21-day quarantine for any people who could, reasonably, have come in contact with it.

However, my question isn’t about whether we should or shouldn’t. It’s about who should be driving this. The nurse in the story I linked above is upset at being treated like she’s a criminal; that the protocol they’re following isn’t well thought out or well equipped. Fair enough. Why, then, isn’t Doctors Without Borders setting up the protocol on their own? Again, I point out the doctor in New York as clear evidence that whatever process they’re relying upon isn’t doing the job. They need to step it up and why shouldn’t they be the ones setting up the quarantine? There have been examples in the rest of the country of people going into a self-quarantine because they understand that they could have contracted the disease and just not know it yet. Where will they be when they become symptomatic? And how many will they expose while they’re in the process of realizing it and then getting to somewhere they can be isolated?

Far better for everyone if these people will take the disease as seriously as they claim its lethality suggests. I applaud the efforts of these health organizations who are stepping in to try to halt the disease and to save as many lives as they can. That’s a good deed beyond measure. Now they need to finish that out by assuring themselves and rest of us that they aren’t going to spread the disease themselves. The returning medical professionals should know enough to know that a self-quarantine is the only way to be sure and it’s the only way to prove to the rest of us that they are taking our concerns as seriously as they suggest we should be taking theirs.