Above are two pictures from October 24th.
Which one is more memorable? The one of the president giving former Ebola patient Nina Pham a hug? Or the picture of two governors announcing a forced Ebola quarantine?
Friday, the governors of New York and New Jersey ordered an involuntary quarantine for all people entering the country through two area airports if they had direct contact with Ebola patients in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. They will be automatically confined for monitoring during the 21-day incubation period of the virus.
The two-state forced quarantine policy was instituted a day after Dr. Craig Spencer, a physician for the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, tested positive for Ebola and was admitted to a special isolation unit at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan.
A few hours later, New Jersey health officials said a nurse who had recently worked with Ebola patients in Africa and landed in Newark on Friday had developed a fever and was being placed in isolation at a hospital.
She did not initially display symptoms of Ebola but later developed a fever, said New Jersey Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner.
She had been quarantined earlier in the day under the new policy, even before she had symptoms. Officials did not know Friday night whether or not she had the virus.
However, recent news on Saturday indicates a preliminary test shows that the health care worker does not have Ebola, New Jersey officials said.
She was the first to be quarantined under the new policy.
But here’s the thing: the unidentified woman will remain in quarantine at a hospital in Newark for at least 21 days under the controversial new state policy.
The mandatory quarantine even for non-symptomatic travelers will last 21 days, the longest documented period it has taken for an infected person to show symptoms of the disease.
So again, a preliminary test shows that the health care worker does not have Ebola, but she will remain in quarantine for 21 days anyway.
Is this a 21-day prison?
According to the New York Times, the new measures go beyond what federal guidelines require and what infectious disease experts recommend.
These actions were also taken without consulting the city’s health department, according to a senior city official.
Both governors, Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey, portrayed these steps as necessary. “A voluntary Ebola quarantine is not enough,” Mr. Cuomo said. “This is too serious a public health situation.”
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, said Dr. Spencer probably should have self-quarantined beginning on Tuesday. “At that point I would have locked myself in, and I would have started checking my temperature hourly,” he said.
However, Dr. Schaffner said he saw no need for an automatic 21-day quarantine or isolation period for people arriving from West Africa – even health workers. There is no medical reason for it, he said, because people are not contagious until they develop symptoms.
Also, three people who “had contact” with Dr. Craig Spencer have been involuntarily quarantined, and investigators have compiled a detailed accounting of his movements in the days before he was placed in isolation at Bellevue Hospital Center on Thursday. They were reported still healthy on Friday.
So, again, three “healthy people” were quarantined.
What does that mean – “had contact?” It is claimed that the disease only spreads through bodily fluids. Does that mean the three people had contact with Dr. Spencer’s bodily fluids?
According to the Times, “(i)n New York City, disease investigators continued their search for anyone who had come into contact with the city’s first Ebola patient, Dr. Craig Spencer, since Tuesday morning.”
Again, what do they mean by “come into contact?” Played bowling near his alley? Dr. Spencer remained in stable condition on Friday, and doctors were discussing the use of various experimental treatments. The bowling alley has been temporarily shut down.
Friday, the White House sidestepped questions about whether a nationwide quarantine of returning health care workers was being considered.
The Federal government has already put procedures in place, including enhanced airport screenings and the monitoring of people arriving from Ebola-afflicted countries.
There was also concern that the move in New York and New Jersey might have an adverse effect on getting workers to West Africa, where more than 4,500 people have died of the virus and medical workers are in short supply.
City health officials have said Spencer, 33, did not begin to show symptoms until Thursday morning, the day of his hospitalization, and was thus not contagious before then.
However, public fears about transmission of the disease were stoked by the disclosure that he had ridden subways, taken a taxi and visited a bowling alley in the days before he fell ill.
Medical detectives, meanwhile, have tried to retrace Spencer’s steps in the city in search of others who might have been exposed.
Does politics play a role?
After first seeking to allay concerns that Dr. Craig Spencer put others at risk, New York Governor Cuomo said Friday that common sense demanded these measures.
Cuomo is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party led by Obama, and New Jersey Governor Christie, a Republican, is widely discussed as a potential 2016 contender for the White House.
In Washington, Obama also sought to reassure a worried public with an Oval Office hug of Dallas nurse Nina Pham, who was declared Ebola-free on Friday after catching the virus from Duncan.
Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and the CDC also confirmed that a second nurse, Amber Vinson, no longer had detectable levels of virus but did not set a date for her to leave that facility.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to discuss the possibility of a nationwide quarantine policy but said “these kinds of policy decisions are going to be driven by science” and the advice of medical experts.
A senior administration official said it was important for the United States to take “coordinated” action on the issue.
What about discrimination?
The new United Nations human rights chief expressed alarm on Thursday over anti-African prejudices arising from the Ebola crisis, warning against what he described as ill-conceived quarantine enforcements and discriminatory travel restrictions.
“Only a response that is built on respect for human rights will be successful in quashing the epidemic,” he said.
As the global response to the crisis accelerates, he said, “it is also vital that every person struck down with Ebola be treated with dignity, not stigmatized or cast out.”
Concerns about rights and liberties with regards to the quarantine have been raised. Is being quarantined the same as being arrested?
“It’s a severe restriction that the use of which should be very much guarded, that people should have a right to an attorney and some type of due process,” said attorney Joel Kupferman, executive director of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project. “When they quarantine someone, they should make sure that they are not treated as a criminal.”
Dr. Craig Spencer’s case brought to nine the total number of people treated for Ebola in U.S. hospitals since August. Only one person has died from it. Several of those who had the disease were health care workers who had been working in West Africa.
Just two, nurses Pham and Vinson, contracted the virus in the United States.
Only four Ebola patients have been diagnosed with it in the country: Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who died on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, the nurses Pham and Vinson, and Spencer, the first New York City case.
Dr. Kent Brantly was the first person with Ebola to arrive in the U.S. this year. He arrived here on August 2nd.
Ebola was first discovered in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo near the Ebola River in 1976. Thirty-two Ebola outbreaks would follow, bringing the total number of cases before this outbreak to 2,361, including 1,438 deaths, according to the WHO.