Why Kaci Hickox Is Right To Defy Governor LePage’s Quarantine

I don’t think any reasonable person will dispute that public health officials should have authority to quarantine individuals who may pose a threat to public health when there’s a rational medical reason to do so. The rationale for quarantining people is the same as for locking up criminals, is nearly as intrusive, and it should be done only when the facts justify it and always subject to due process.

I’ll bet none of the people thumping drums for mandatory quarantining of Ebola-exposed health workers is willing to be imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, so they should be able to understand that Kaci Hickox isn’t willing to be confined because of a disease she doesn’t have.

The question for us, as citizens of this country, is whether to support a governor intent upon enforcing a state quarantine that federal guidelines don’t call for, or stand with a humanitarian worker who claims she’s defending the rights of all health workers to be free from intrusive and unnecessary government harassment. The first thing we have to do is ascertain the facts.

Much is irrational about the Ebola hysteria sweeping the country. President Obama, to his credit, refused to jump on the blanket quarantine bandwagon and insisted states follow federal CDC guidelines. But at least three governors — New Jersey’s, New York’s, and Maine’s — have caved to public fears and want to quarantine every health worker returning from West Africa.

There, in the so-called “hot zone,” hundreds of Western volunteer health workers are toiling to save human lives. The frosty reception they’re getting at home has a strong odor of “no good deed should go unpunished.” These selfless people answered a higher calling and they’re being treated like criminals.

In this country, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), a federal agency, establishes medical guidelines for things like quarantine policies. The CDC’s staff doctors and public health experts figure this stuff out. All well and good. The problem is the general public gets its impressions about this stuff from movies and popular media.

The CDC has determined that Ebola isn’t contagious until a person is symptomatic, and transmitting it requires contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. The CDC doesn’t consider health workers exposed to Ebola patients at high risk if they use protective gear. Because there’s some residual risk, the CDC recommends monitoring these workers for symptoms, but doesn’t endorse mandatory quarantines of asymptomatic persons. That blows Maine’s state quarantine, and its governor’s go-it-alone attempt to enforce it, out of the water.

There’s a bigger problem than just infringing on the civil liberties of a few hundred health workers. The hysteria is getting out of control. Health workers are being kicked out of businesses and social events, and even their kids are being kicked out of daycares. If this doesn’t stop, there will be no health care for anyone, because workers will walk away. No one will put their families through that.

Hickox refused to go along with the governor’s request for a blood test in lieu of home confinement because it isn’t sanctioned by CDC guidelines and merely plays to the mob. It’s about principle. Hickox says she’s fighting for the rights of health workers. She isn’t defying the CDC’s carefully crafted guidelines; she’s defying Maine’s arbitrary quarantine, which she asserts (probably correctly) “isn’t scientifically valid.”

Her larger argument is that states don’t have a right to confine people merely because the mob is afraid of them. Beyond that, she’s trying to stem the tide of panic; she’s trying to educate the public. “You could hug me, you could shake my hand, I would not give you Ebola,” she says. Hickox is a nurse, and I’m willing to believe she knows what she’s talking about.

Meanwhile, Governor LePage has to face voters in a few days and doesn’t want to look like he’s sitting on his hands. From his point of view, doing something wrong, is better than doing nothing; a wrong can always be sorted out later. That’s why he’s siccing the state’s lawyers on Ms. Hickox. He’s taking her to court to lock her up, at least, I assume, until the election’s over and the voters have decided his fate.

I hope she wins this fight, because that’s a lousy reason to lock someone up, and if a tinpot politician in Maine can do it to her, then any politician anywhere can do it to any of us. This isn’t just her fight; it’s also our fight. It’s about whether our country will be ruled by reason or madness.

Update:  On Friday, Oct. 31, a Maine state judge rejected the state’s request to enforce restrictions on Hickox, stating that because she’s not showing symptoms, she’s not infectious. In effect, the judge overruled the state’s quarantine rules and went with the CDC’s guidelines. It’s a victory for rationality over hysteria, for Hickox and other health workers, and a stinging defeat for Maine’s grandstanding and politicking Republican governor.Roger Rabbit icon



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