The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs said the federal government should be paying the medical care and any lost wages of medical personnel who are quarantined after volunteering in West Africa.
“We cannot protect Americans at home without sending Americans to Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone. Instead of demonizing those who volunteer for service, through stigmatizing mandatory quarantines or the imposition of a travel ban, we should be honoring them,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) wrote today in a Washington Post op-ed.
“There’s a simple way to do that: The president should guarantee that all U.S. citizens who travel to West Africa to help fight Ebola will be allowed to return to the United States, that any medical care they need as a result of their trip will be provided free of charge and that wages lost to any government-imposed quarantine will be reimbursed,” Coons wrote. “That’s the least we can do for the volunteers, missionaries and military personnel working to end this outbreak.”
The senator lauded Doctors Without Borders, Samaritan’s Purse, the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations for their service in caring for Ebola patients and said the groups should be “celebrated and thanked for their service.”
“But some of our political leaders have been sending the opposite message. The measures imposed by officials in New York and New Jersey last weekend — although later softened — sent a dangerous, punitive message to these dedicated people. Forced quarantines and the barring of people without Ebola symptoms are tactics not backed by science. Worse, they are likely to do more long-term harm than good,” Coons said.
“Public health experts warn that such measures would deter others from serving and increase the likelihood of potentially infected people actively avoiding U.S. monitoring efforts. Without more volunteers in West Africa, the virus is likely to spread dramatically — in which case soon no level of airport restrictions would keep it from claiming American lives.”
The White House has acknowledged that states have the right to set quarantine procedures as they see fit, while expressing displeasure for the policies.
“We’ve been very clear as an administration what policies we believe are appropriate for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of local populations in this country,” press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday. “And we’ve been clear about that, because we also believe it’s important not to place an undue burden on health care workers who are returning from West Africa because we don’t want to hinder our efforts to stop this outbreak at the source in West Africa.”