Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) led the way in imposing quarantines on medical staff returning to the United States from the Ebola zone in West Africa. Both governors imposed quarantines against angry opposition from the Obama administration, which seems to be taking the position that theoretical threats should take precedence over actual ones. Other governors have followed suit, with Illinois’ Democrat governor and Florida’s Republican governor also announcing quarantines. So far, then, the use of mandatory quarantines has bi-partisan support at the governor level.
The Obama administration argues that the quarantines may cause some returning doctors and nurses to avoid the five airports where “enhanced” Ebola screening is being used. It has made similar arguments against travel bans from West Africa by non-citizens — that the bans will incentivize people to cross borders illegally.
The Obama administration takes the opposite view when it comes to U.S. border security, though, consistently dismissing and ignoring the fact that its behavior and statements create incentives for people to cross into the country illegally.
So far, the five Americans who have contracted Ebola have survived it. The sixth, Dr. Craig Spencer, has received a blood transfusion from an Ebola survivor and is expected to recover. A seventh potential victim, a five-year-old boy, is currently showing symptoms in New York and is being tested. The key to victory has been early diagnosis and aggressive treatment, plus isolation to make sure that one patient infects as few other people as possible.
It’s not the prognosis of recovery that has governors and local officials concerned. It is the response that must follow each positive Ebola test, and the strain that individual cases put on hospitals.
When Spencer was diagnosed with Ebola, officials in New York had to retrace every step he had taken since he returned from West Africa, where he was treating Ebola patients and contracted the virus. That is a time-consuming, tense and expensive process, potentially costing hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per day. People who have had close contact with each Ebola patient must be found and then monitored for symptoms as well. In Spencer’s case, his fiancee and two friends have been quarantined. That’s just for one victim. An outbreak of just a handful of victims could strain resources just in tracking down others who may have been exposed and monitoring them.
If a state fails to fully track an Ebola victim’s movements and outbreak occurs, they will be rightly accused of negligence.
The honor system has not and will not work to stop Ebola. It has already failed. Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who was exposed to Ebola in his native country and then brought it to Dallas, lied on his Liberian exit form and then according to his Dallas nurses lied again about his Ebola exposure during his first visit to the hospital.
Medical doctors and so-called experts have denounced the state-level quarantines, but two doctors and a nurse have exposed others to Ebola after their own exposures. Both Dr. Nancy Snyderman of NBC and Dr. Spencer exposed others by violating quarantine and in Spencer’s case, using mass transit. Dallas nurse Amber Joy Vinson did as well, flying between Dallas and Cleveland, OH, on commercial aircraft despite showing symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control is hardly in a position to complain about the state-level quarantines. It cleared Vinson to fly on those commercial aircraft.
Vinson has recovered from Ebola, but her flights exposed dozens of people, each of whom had to be tracked down, and their steps retraced. Schools in Texas and Ohio were impacted by her decision to fly commercially and possibly expose other passengers, who in turn could have exposed their family and friends.
Each person who does test positive for Ebola puts a severe strain on local hospitals. It takes about 20 full-time medical personnel to treat just one Ebola patient. It also takes vast amounts of hazmat gear. Ebola patients must be isolated from all other patients, further straining hospital facilities and resources. Expenses add up very quickly. The two Dallas nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital had to be moved to other hospitals that are fully equipped to tackle Ebola. The United States only has four such hospitals, and the Dallas outbreak made it clear that even well-equipped hospitals in major cities were not ready when the first Ebola victim arrived.
Between Duncan’s alleged lies and the doctors’ and nurses’ failure to self-monitor and self-quarantine, and the federal government’s stubborn insistence that any travel ban will be counter-productive, plus the difficulty and expense of treating victims, states are left to defend themselves. So they will.