Thoughts & Views: Ebola: More questions than answers

It’s not often that I agree with Chris Christie, but on the issue of mandatory isolation for certain persons returning to the U.S. from Ebola-afflicted countries, he is 1,000% correct. Or maybe I should say, was correct.

Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that the White House was “pushing” Christie and N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo “to reverse their decision ordering all medical workers returning from West Africa who had contact with Ebola patients to be quarantined” for 21 days.

On Monday morning came word that that the nurse quarantined at UMDNJ in Newark, who was raising a stink and threatening a lawsuit, would be released. As of press time, details were sparse, so I do not know if Christie himself had a change of heart.

At the same time, in New York, Cuomo was said to be “revising” the quarantine rule there.

So much for steadfastness.

Like everything else in the Ebola situation, uncertainty and confusion dominate.

Thus far, the Obama administration, and the Centers for Disease Control, appear to be completely clueless about how to manage, limit, prevent, whatever, the potential dangers of this disease to the American public.

Consider, for instance, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden’s statement during a press briefing that it was not possible to catch Ebola from sitting next to an infected person on a bus, but that such infected persons should avoid public transportation because they could spread the disease there.

Huh?

The next day, another CDC spokesperson clarified (if that’s the right word) that it was “not impossible” to contract Ebola on a bus.

For weeks, the public has been assured that to contract Ebola, one must come into contact with a sick person’s “bodily fluids.” According to the CDC’s website, these include “but [are] not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen.”

The same site says “Ebola is not spread through the air . . .”

Okay. But what about the mucus/phlegm from a sneeze or a cough? The reason we are supposed to cover our noses and mouths when sneezing/ coughing is because the germs can spread a fair distance. Through the air. Isn’t mucus a bodily fluid? Maybe I missed it, but have these questions been addressed?

Let me state that I in no way wish to promote some sort of Ebola panic, which some news reports appear to be flirting with. We are far from a pandemic’s threatening our shores. But I’d like to keep it that way.

My point is that we simply do not know, or have not been told, enough.

Remember the adage “Better safe than sorry”?

A 21-day mandatory quarantine, be it in an American hospital or in one’s own home, is neither cruel and unusual punishment nor a violation of one’s civil rights. I would think that any of these health-care workers returning from West Africa would gladly agree to a quarantine, or do they care less about the health of Americans than they do about others’?

Yes, they are heroes for the risks they have taken to help the stricken. But I’d think a hero wouldn’t mind 21 days – which isn’t much time at all – in a secure environment. It’s not like they’re being sent to Guantanamo.

As we have seen, voluntary isolation hasn’t worked. As Cuomo commented last week: “’Voluntary quarantine’? No. That’s almost an oxymoron to me.”

But that was last week.

Word has come that Florida and Illinois have now instituted mandatory quarantine rules.

Let’s see how long those last.

– Karen Zautyk 

The Observer Staff