Bryanna McDermott | Student Columnist
When health care professionals from the group Doctors without Borders arrived at an airport in Newark, New Jersey, last month from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, each were tested for the disease and checked for symptoms. A nurse, Kaci Hickox, was found with an elevated fever and forced to be quarantined in an isolation tent outside of a hospital for four days before being allowed to return to her home in Maine, where she was expected to complete the 21 day incubation period.
Hickox had other plans. She found no reason to be quarantined since she tested negative for the disease not once, but twice. Kaci Hickox took it to court, saying that health care professionals returning from West Africa were being treated unfairly.
Maine District Court Chief Judge, Charles LaVerdiere, ruled in favor of Hickox; however, she’d have restrictions. She would have to be monitored, coordinate all travel plans with public health officials and immediately notify health authorities if symptoms should appear. Stricter limits came later, she could not go to public places such as shopping centers or movie theaters, maintain 3 feet between her and any other persons while participating in non-congregate public activities like jogging, and couldn’t leave her home of Fort Kent without consulting local health authorities.
On Monday, Nov. 3, it was ruled that Hickox can travel freely in public, but she is still required to have her health monitored and report any symptoms that should occur until Nov. 10, the end of the 21 day incubation period.
United States health care workers have traveled to these West African countries to help the victims and put an end to the outbreak. However, when they return to the U.S., they are treated just like Hickox. For putting their lives on the line in order to help thousands of people, they are expected to put their lives on hold for 21 days even if they possess no symptoms or test negative for the disease. This has raised the question, is it unconstitutional to quarantine travelers returning from West African countries affected by Ebola?
It is unconstitutional. These quarantines are defying are most basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
There’s a mass fear of Ebola in America, despite the fact that it isn’t a major concern at this point. Look at the facts, there has been a total of four confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States, one has died, but two have survived and another remains in stable condition in a New York hospital.
Ebola isn’t a highly transmittable disease, it can only be transmitted by coming in contact with bodily fluids. It’s only a concern in West African countries because there isn’t much help. Hospitals are overcrowded and victims forced to remain in their homes where their families take care of them without the protective suits health care workers possess. This leads to their family members contracting the disease and then creating a chain reaction. Here in America, we don’t have those problems because we have the luxury of being a first-world country with a plethora of hospitals with beds open for patients and the technology and transportation to help them overcome the disease.
The quarantines are simply a product of this irrational fear and a ploy by politicians to gain support through action. Kaci Hickox stated in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press “When Governor Christie stated that it was an abundance of caution, which is his reasoning for putting health care workers in a sort of quarantine for three weeks, it was really an abundance of politics.”
Politicians are looking at this from a political viewpoint. When there’s mass panic and fear, they see an opportunity to become the theoretical heroes to come to the aid of the people.
The 21-day quarantines periods set by multiple states in America won’t hold up. Just like with Kaci Hickox, they will be thrown out as an injustice against personal liberty. The Ebola fear in the United States needs to be put to bed, but not by isolating those who return from aiding the West African countries victimized by the disease.
The population needs to be educated on the disease so that there’s caution instead of fear. As for returning doctors and nurses, they should be screened at the airport and if they test positive for Ebola or show multiple symptoms, then they should be taken to the hospital for treatment. If they test negative and show no sign of symptoms, they should be allowed to return to their lives with limited health monitoring. Holding healthy people against their will is wrong.