Normally hyperactive about potential risks, the nanny-state establishment is strangely intolerant of reasonable fears about Ebola’s spread. It usually frets over second-hand smoke, too many cupcakes and sodas in schools, and is always ready to label something an “epidemic.” Nor are nanny-state liberals averse to inconveniencing doctors and nurses in the name of public health, as evident in Obamacare’s voluminous regulations. But on matters related to Ebola, these attitudes disappear. Suddenly it is “paranoid,” “draconian,” and unconstitutional for states to quarantine medical workers exposed to Ebola patients in West Africa.
In light of the fact that a considerable number of medical workers have contracted the disease, quarantining doctors and nurses during the incubation period hardly qualifies as an outlandish policy. Public support for the policy is particularly understandable, given the CDC’s wobbly performance throughout the crisis. Its confident pronouncements keep getting punctured by changing events. It is not even clear if its most confident claim — that asymptomatic people can’t communicate the disease — is true.
Leading American medical researcher Dr. Bruce Beutler has told the press that “it may not be absolutely true that those without symptoms can’t transmit the disease, because we don’t have the numbers to back that up.”
Erring on the side of caution in the absence of certain knowledge about a deadly disease would justify at the very least making sure that doctors and nurses returning from work with Ebola patients in West Africa don’t have it. But the Obama administration is treating this common-sense quarantine as an act of hysteria, even as its own guidelines move toward it. The CDC remains opposed to involuntary quarantines but has now recommended self-quarantining for some medical workers.
The administration’s logic against the quarantines in New Jersey and elsewhere seems soft-headed. According to the head of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden, doctors and nurses won’t want to work in West Africa “if we do things that make it very difficult for people to come back, if we turn them into pariahs instead of recognizing the heroic work that they’re doing.” Why is he describing a reasonable precaution as an act of stigma? Surely responsible doctors and nurses don’t see it as an act of stigma but as a necessary measure under the circumstances. And are they really going to view the quarantine as a greater deterrent to going than exposure to the disease itself? Losing the services of doctors and nurses who immaturely view the quarantine as an intolerable limitation upon their freedom after returning is a risk worth taking. That is certainly a lesser risk than the spread of the disease itself and will probably serve to weed out dare-devil doctors from dedicated ones.
In any case, it is silly for the administration to cast a justified precaution as a punishment for people “we should be treating as heroes.” The military, which doesn’t bother to entertain such sophomoric logic, has no problem ordering its returning heroes into “controlled monitoring facilities” after their exposure to Ebola patients. Does the CDC consider that policy to be draconian? Is that a punishment for these soldiers? No, it is the military’s common-sense response to the fact that people who interact with Ebola patients can get Ebola. If those Dallas nurses could get it under circumstances where standards were supposedly so high, obviously some medical workers and soldiers in West Africa, where standards are lower, will get it too.
Perhaps New Jersey could have provided nicer quarters for the quarantined nurse Kaci Hickox, but her complaints still seem oddly politicized. She called her treatment “inhumane.” Did she really expect, at a time when nurses and doctors are coming down with Ebola, to stroll back into the country as if her exposure was no big deal? Working in West Africa with Ebola patients is commendable, but it doesn’t confer upon the doctor or nurse a right to be free of basic measures of public safety. To give them an exemption from them, in the name of “honoring” their service, as the White House puts it, makes no sense if the priority is stopping the spread of the disease.
That the White House would frame the discussion in terms of “respecting” doctors and nurses versus insulting them just reveals its lack of seriousness about the problem.