Health Workers Say Ebola Quarantines Aren't The Answer

Critics say mandated quarantines for travelers coming from West Africa could discourage potential volunteers from going to Ebola-affected countries.
Posted at 10:13 AM, Oct 26, 2014

A nurse who is currently quarantined in New Jersey after volunteering for Doctors Without Borders in West Africa is speaking out against her treatment. 

In an op-ed for The Dallas Morning News, Kaci Hickox, who tested negative for the virus, painted a picture of disorganization from the authorities that quarantined her, and said she was treated as though she were a criminal. 

"I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine."

Hickox called on the authorities to treat returning healthcare workers with dignity, and that's the broader issue here. There are fears that quarantines will discourage potential volunteers. 

Thousands of Americans have volunteered to help the response to Ebola in West Africa, through NGOs like Doctors Without Borders, but also through the CDC — and now they face mandatory quarantines from New York, New Jersey and Illinois, regardless of how they test for the virus. (Video via Doctors Without Borders)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his New York counterpart Andrew Cuomo have already faced criticism for the quarantines from fellow government officials. (Video via WNBC)

CNN reports CDC officials are unhappy with the quarantines, as is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who's taken a different approach toward quelling Ebola fears. He ate Saturday at a restaurant the city's first Ebola patient, Dr. Craig Spencer ate at before he was diagnosed. (Video via New York City Mayor's Office)

Many analysts say the quarantines are driven by fear, rather than science — which is hardly a new trend when it comes to Ebola. And, like the proposed travel bans, the governors' response has been condemned by many in the health community as counter-productive. 

The New York Times, for example, interviewed multiple medical professionals and found, "the vast majority said that restrictions like those adopted by New York and New Jersey could cripple volunteers’ efforts at the front lines of the epidemic."

DR. SEEMA YASMIN VIA CNN: "Politicians are responding to fear from some sections of the public, but that really it's actually causing more fear because people are now scared about healthcare workers returning." 

An epidemiologist interviewed by USA Today said the danger could go beyond discouraging health professionals. "The new mandates are also worrisome since people in the general public, if included in mandatory quarantines, may be less likely to come forward if they have symptoms because such measures will increase the stigma surrounding the virus"

Hospital officials say Kaci Hickox will have to see out the rest of her 21-day quarantine, despite testing negative for Ebola. The World Health Organization reports close to 5,000 people have died from the virus in West Africa, although it says the actual death toll could be much higher.