By Brad Broker
Should travelers returning from Ebola-stricken countries be subjected to a mandatory quarantine? New Jersey, New York and several other states say yes. The White House says no. The CDC says maybe.
Doctors Without Borders nurse Kaci Hickox flew back to the U.S. last week from Sierra Leone, where she was on a humanitarian mission treating Ebola patients. When she arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, she was immediately quarantined as per guidelines set by the state.
“This is an extreme that is really unacceptable, and I feel like my basic human rights have been violated,” Hickox told CNN on Sunday.
On Monday, after determining that Hickox was “symptom free for the past 24 hours,” the New Jersey Department of Health released Hickox, who went home to Maine, which also wants Hickox to remain quarantined.
“I understand that she didn’t want to be there, she made that very clear from the beginning,” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “But my obligation is to all of the people of New Jersey, and we’re just going to continue to do that.”
Hickox has hired a civil rights attorney, who said that Hickox has no plans to honor Maine’s 21-day quarantine and will stay home “for maybe a day or so.”
ABC News reports that New York, Illinois and Florida have also imposed mandatory quarantines for anyone exposed to people infected with Ebola.
The White House does not agree with mandatory quarantines or any regulations that may discourage healthcare providers from traveling to help others in need of medical assistance.
“These individuals are heroes, and their commitment to their common man and to their country is one that should be respected,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told The Hill. “And we believe that we can both show them the respect that they have earned while also ensuring that we have protocols in place to protect the American people.”
CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, echoed those statements. “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 they are doing,” healthcare workers will be less likely to treat Ebola patients.
The CDC issued its own set of guidelines Monday calling for a more individualized approach rather than an across-the-board quarantine. Each person will be categorized as high risk, some risk or low (but not zero) risk. Criteria and actions differ depending on the classification.
Healthcare workers providing direct care to Ebola patients in countries with widespread transmission, such as Hickox, would automatically be classified as “some risk,” even without showing symptoms of the virus. According to the CDC guidelines, the protocol for this group is to “implement rapid isolation with immediate contact of public health authorities to arrange for safe transport to an appropriate healthcare facility for Ebola evaluation.”