With Ebola quarantine, an outbreak of politics

Updated 8:40 a.m.: New York Times reports nurse in Newark to be allowed to finish Ebola quarantine at home.

We’re more than a month into the so-called Ebola crisis and so far the number of Americans who’ve contracted the illness here and who weren’t bedside treating Ebola patients in a hospital stands at zero. Still.

The closer we get to Election Day, the more hyperventilating about the danger. What’s going on here? Politics, today’s Star Tribune poll confirms.

Ninety-seven percent of Democrats said they have confidence in the government’s ability to contain an outbreak in the U.S. Only 56 percents of Republicans say they are confident.

Here’s the takeaway, however: Only 18 percent of those surveyed say they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned that they or their families are at risk. So good job … by whom?

“I don’t think it’s [about] public health,” the University of Minnesota’s Larry Jacobs told the paper. “Any issue that rises to the top of press coverage, that has in any way a relationship to government, is going to be kind of sliced and diced in a partisan filter.”

And much of the media shows no ability to do much more than play to that, evidenced by the fact the first question in yesterday’s U.S. Senate debate was on Ebola, a problem that may well be forgotten by the time the next U.S. senator begins his six-year term in January.

The collateral damage, however, is being heaped on health care workers who have been heroically stemming the Ebola tide.

Kaci Hickox, an epidemiologist, doesn’t have Ebola. She’s not showing any symptoms. She’s been tested twice since returning from Sierra Leone and the results have been negative both times. But there she is, imprisoned in a New Jersey hospital, mostly because the state’s governor is considering running for president.

Christie described her as “obviously ill,” when he ordered her held against her will.

“First of all, I don’t think he’s a doctor; secondly, he’s never laid eyes on me; and thirdly, I’ve been asymptomatic since I’ve been here,” Hickox told CNN on Sunday. “I’m sorry, but that’s just a completely unacceptable statement in my opinion. For (Christie) — a politician who’s trusted and respected — to make a statement that’s categorically not true is just unacceptable and appalling.”

Hickox isn’t a New Jersey resident; she lives in Maine. She wrote about her ordeal in the Dallas Morning News.

After my temperature was recorded as 98.6 on the oral thermometer, the doctor decided to see what the forehead scanner records. It read 101. The doctor felts my neck and looked at the temperature again. “There’s no way you have a fever,” he said. “Your face is just flushed.”

My blood was taken and tested for Ebola. It came back negative.

I sat alone in the isolation tent and thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?

I recalled my last night at the Ebola management center in Sierra Leone. I was called in at midnight because a 10-year-old girl was having seizures. I coaxed crushed tablets of Tylenol and an anti-seizure medicine into her mouth as her body jolted in the bed.

It was the hardest night of my life. I watched a young girl die in a tent, away from her family.

With few resources and no treatment for Ebola, we tried to offer our patients dignity and humanity in the face of their immense suffering.
The epidemic continues to ravage West Africa. Recently, the World Health Organization announced that as many as 15,000 people have died from Ebola. We need more health care workers to help fight the epidemic in West Africa. The U.S. must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity.

There’s little science to support Christie, and health experts worry it will dissuade “heroes” from volunteering to help fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Today, Gov. Mark Dayton will release Minnesota’s plan to monitor travelers from areas which have suffered from the Ebola outbreak.

Related: Ebola: Inside the first U.S. diagnosis) (CBS News).

21 Days – An expert in biological warfare warns against complacency in public measures against Ebola (The Atlantic).

Expert Opinion: Travel Bans And Quarantines For Ebola Could Backfire (WBUR).

  • Jack

    I believe this is more than just politics – it’s the way we tend to react to issues.

    Unfortunately she is paying the price for those who came before her that didn’t self-quarantine.

    The US does have a history of quarantining – it is called Ellis Island. Now it’s a National Park and not available for use.

    • //Unfortunately she is paying the price for those who came before her that didn’t self-quarantine.

      Who, besides Nancy Snyderman?

      • DavidG

        Craig Spencer, the doctor that actually tested positive.

        However, there’s no science that supports the need of someone who is asymptomatic to “self-quarantine.”

      • DavidG

        And I’m guessing people will include Nancy Pham and Amber Vinson as well.

        • Yes, I think they would. The great Wade Goodwyn had a piece about this on All Things Considered on Friday — the rush to blame the women.

          • Jack

            It started with Mr. Duncan. Thanks to those who filled in the blanks while I was at work.

          • DavidG

            not really.

            Only two cases among all of the Mr. Duncan’s healthcare team became infected. Neither of those cases resulted in additional infections.

            Even those that were living with Mr. Duncan failed to become infected.

            All this indicates that quarantine is unnecessary. There is probably a benefit to having their daily monitoring overseen by medical professionals, but that can easily be done with daily visits.

  • jon

    “For (Christie) — a politician who’s trusted and respected — to make a statement that’s categorically not true is just unacceptable and appalling.”


    The only thing that’s missing from this being a great piece for the onion would be a quote from Christie saying something to the effect of “Traveling halfway around the world to help other people? Clearly the she is ill.”

  • Robert Moffitt

    With the election only a few days away, I wonder how far some politicians will push this? Too far, if what’s past is prologue. A word of warning to Minnesota politicians of all stripes: don’t go there.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    For those looking for a laugh in the face of these kind of stories I recommend The Borowitz Report ( http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report ). In the last couple of weeks he has had headlines like: “Some Fear Ebola Out Break Could Make Nation Turn to Science” and yesterday’s “Study: Fear of Ebola Highest Among People Who Did Not Pay Attention During Math and Science Classes”

  • constantine

    If the do-gooders want to go half way around the world to help a bunch of foreigners, that’s their problem; but if they want to come back to this country, that’s our problem. All individuals returning form infected countries should be subject to a mandatory 21 day quarantine, no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. If you don’t want to spend 21 days in quarantine, don’t go to west Africa, it’s as simple as that.

    • Veronica

      The reason it got so out of control in West Africa is thanks to an attitude of “it’s not our problem.”

      I’m also not sure how to address your disdain for people actually trying to help.

    • Let me see if I have this logic correct. Mike Osterholm and others who know what they’re doing, say the best way to lessen the risk of Ebola here, is to stop it in West Africa. But we have a problem with the “do-gooders” who are trying to stop it in West Africa because theyu’re only helping “a bunch of foreigners”?

  • Jim G

    Christie is obviously playing to the under educated in science on the right side of our political divide. For him, it’s a good move. It is early on in the Republican candidate search and playing to fear and ignorance is always an attention grabber. However, if we don’t stop Ebola in West Africa, we face destabilization of the entire region. Also, we must not repeat history and isolate our medical personnel as we did our ethic Japanese citizens in World War II. Try this analogy on and see how it fits. A forest is in flames. Then we quarantine returning firefighters for 21 days, eventually we will run out of personnel willing to fight the wild fire and the forest burns, and burns…

  • Duke Powell

    I sighed and shook my head after reading this entry and the accompanying comments. It has been my opinion for several years that dangerous contagious diseases, such as ebola, would return to infect a citizenry woefully unprepared and uneducated.

    Fortunately, NewsCut provided a related article at the end of the post entitled “21 Days.” Apparently, however, Mr. Collins was too busy talking to Larry Jacobs to review it or else I can’t imagine he would have written what he did.

    Take the time to read it and then decide who’s being the science-denier and playing politics.

    • Super great example of confirmation bias right there.

      • Duke Powell

        Confirmation bias?? Ha.

        If that were true, I would get all my information from Fox News (which I don’t since I don’t watch TV) and I wouldn’t be a daily visitor to NewsCut (which I am).

        BTW, I read the other related content you posted as well. It’s just that “21 days” seems to be in agreement with what I have been taught for years.

  • DavidG

    And, it looks like Chistie has caved. Hickock will be allowed to return to her home in Maine once the Feds give the ok later today. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/28/nyregion/nurse-in-newark-to-be-allowed-to-finish-ebola-quarantine-at-home-christie-says.html?smid=tw-bna&_r=0

  • David P.

    “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” – Winston S. Churchill.
    A politcal strategy that has been proven by the test of time.
    And another example of political opportunism trumping science, logic and the greater good.

  • John

    The problem with science is that, while it tends to be correct in the end, it’s a slow, laborious, process (iterations of which may well be wrong along the way).

    The problem with political decisions is that no one expects them to be correct, but, hey, we’re doing something, and we’re doing it fast. (though the politicians are more than ready to take credit for their astonishing vision if their version of the truth happens to be correct, and find someone to blame when they’re wrong)

    Unfortunately, there is little appetite among the political classes (or the taxed citizens who fund these things) to invest in slow, laborious and correct.

    The result (in my observation) is response by the political class to a crisis (real or perceived) that is all over the map, and is as likely as not to be incorrect. Unfortunately, the scientists and front line workers get caught in the cross fire, and have little say in the decisions that are made.

  • Nicholas Kraemer

    So the quarantine put her in more danger? Did it put the US in more danger? I don’t think she can know for certain that she did not contract Ebola (as Bob has pointed out, even nurses in America have caught the disease). I think acting out of an abundance of caution is prudent. Since people are always clamoring for proof, I’ll ask for some myself. What proof is there that quarantining returning medical workers will persuade people not to go and help?
    Finally, just to throw it out there. I’m certain that the governor had the power to order this quarantine due to the precdence set in Jacobson v. Massachusetts.

  • Duke Powell

    The Dayton administration now has announced plans on how to deal with those who travel to Minnesota from West Africa countries that are struggling with the Ebola crisis. It appears to me, and I’m a health care provider who may very well have to gown-up to care for patients who may be carrying the disease, that the plan is a reasonable response to this threat. I thank Governor Dayton and his public health team.

    What the Governor’s press release didn’t say (and I’m not being critical) is that any health care worker who treated Ebola patients returning from these West African countries and presents with a fever or other symptoms will be not be quarantined at home. They will be taken to a medical facility and quarantined there.

    Governor Christie and his Dept of Health quarantined Nurse Hickox. She had a measured fever at the airport. Her temp may very well been measured wrong, but letting her journey home to Maine with a suspected fever would have been irresponsible in the extreme.

    She now is supposedly going to be “released” and allowed to travel by “private transportation” to Maine. I wonder how Maine is going to deal with the situation.

    Probably a lot like Minnesota will – home quarantine – as long as she remains symptom-free for the incubation period.

  • L. Foonimin

    “There’s little science to support Christie …”. That’s not true, there is plenty of statistical evidence that indicates political opportunism is a way to win elections.

  • Marilyn Bradley Truesdale

    I am appalled at the attitude of Nurse Hickox, if 21 day quarantine is good enough for our Military, who does she think she is? I don’t care if she feels she isn’t contagious! So far the ones that have contracted this disease are medical. Sue us, go for it. I hope people just turn their backs on her.