Of Ebola and Quarantines

EbolaFortKentPresser102914 003.JPGNurse Kaci Hickox is making headlines in her showdown with the governments of New Jersey and Maine over their quarantine policies for people entering the United States from West African nations dealing with Ebola epidemics.

The quarantines have been imposed due to the federal government’s continued unwillingness to implement travel restrictions on Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. We have repeatedly been told, primarily by the Obama administration and their media allies, that travel bans and quarantines are “unscientific,” but this comes from the same administration that told us that you could not contract Ebola while riding on a bus with an infected person…and then in the next breath advised people who might be infected to stay away from public transportation. They tell us that they are taking every precaution, and then they tell us that it isn’t necessary to take every precaution.

Kaci Hickox, an employee of the CDC, has complained about how she was treated upon her return to the United States, and has slammed the quarantines as “inhumane,” and a violation of “basic human rights.” It seems that she was so upset by the inhumanity of having her temperature taken when she returned to the United States that got worked up enough to register a fever of over 100 degrees. Meanwhile, New Jersey and Maine are standing firm, and the government of Maine may even pursue legal action against Hickox for violating the quarantine.

The CDC and the Obama White House are actively opposing any travel restrictions or quarantines, calling them unscientific and unnecessary. And yet, the “scientists” giving the advice seem to be motivated more by politics than science – all while accusing those who seek to keep their states safe of doing the same thing.

So if even the idea of travel restrictions or quarantines is so “unscientific,” why would anyone consider imposing them? There is one, very simple reason:

People lie.

When Thomas Eric Duncan came to the United States from Liberia, he had no symptoms, though just days before he had been in close contact with multiple people who had Ebola. All he had to do to get into the United States was to lie on a questionnaire. In the ensuing weeks, the CDC had to track down hundreds of people that he had come into contact with, and two Dallas nurses ended up contracting the disease.

Dr. Craig Spencer, after returning from Guinea, where he had been treating Ebola patients, lied about staying under a voluntary quarantine, later admitting that he rode the subway, went out to dinner, and went bowling while he was supposed to be under quarantine. It wasn’t until authorities in New York started asking questions about activity on his Metro card that he admitted to having broken quarantine. Now, we just have to wait and see whether anyone else ends up contracting the virus during the course of his treatment.

To date, there have been 9 confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States – and that number includes 5 aid workers who were brought back to the U.S. for treatment after contracting Ebola in West Africa. So out of the 4 total cases of Ebola to be diagnosed in the United States, half of them have lied.

We are continually told that Ebola is difficult to contract, and it’s true that it is much more difficult to contract than any number of other diseases. But while Ebola is not airborne, it can be carried via saliva through, say, a sneeze. Two of the symptoms are projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea. Imagine either of those on a New York subway (if that’s even out of the ordinary for a New York subway). The most frightening thing about Ebola is not how easy or difficult it is to contract, the frightening thing is the mortality rate, which has ranged from 25 to 90 percent in past outbreaks. We have been extremely fortunate here in the United States thus far, as a low number of cases has allowed us to keep the mortality rate low.

But refusing to impose any travel restrictions or mandatory quarantine protocols means we’re playing with fire. We already know that it’s possible for people with Ebola to enter the United States with no symptoms. We already know that people – even medical professionals – will lie to get around voluntary quarantines. There is nothing unreasonable about making people wait 21 days so we can be absolutely sure that they are Ebola free and won’t potentially cause a public health crisis.  Our hospitals are scrambling to try and get the protective gear necessary for treatment of Ebola patients.   Our nation is woefully unprepared for a major outbreak, and if one were to occur before we are ready, it will mean the deaths of many Americans – deaths that can easily be prevented through travel restrictions and quarantines.

It also makes one wonder: if quarantining U.S. soldiers for 21 days is a “smart, wise, prudent, disciplined, science-oriented decision,” why wouldn’t the same be true of aid workers, who would be working much more closely with infected people?

Kaci Hickox may not be symptomatic now, as she flagrantly goes on a bike ride with her boyfriend. She may not have Ebola, may never become symptomatic, may never pose a danger to anyone. But when Thomas Eric Duncan flew to Dallas, he probably hoped the same for himself. When Dr. Craig Spencer took the subway to his bowling match, he likely thought everything was fine.

That the United States has not seen a much larger outbreak of Ebola has had more to do with luck than skill, and the administration seems intent on pressing their luck. We may very well soon be faced with the reality of a few politicians’ and bureaucrats’ poor decisions putting Americans’ lives at risk.

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