With the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa, people around the world are taking steps to prevent the spread of the deadly virus in their respective countries. Most countries, including the U.S., are using an old form of public health safety; the quarantine.
Quarantines are an old American tradition, dating at least to the yellow fever epidemic of 1793, when Philadelphia was placed under martial law and residents were barred from traveling to other cities. The Congress passed a federal quarantine law 3 years later.
Advances in medicine have made quarantines rare for several years. The last well known quarantine of an American citizen was the case of Andrew Speaker. In 2007, Speaker was quarantined by federal authorities because they believed he was carrying a dangerous strain of tuberculosis. He was the first person to be quarantined by the federal government since 1963. It seems that the use of the quarantine will be back because of Ebola.
On October 11, 2014, Customs and health officials began taking the temperatures of passengers arriving at New York’s Kennedy International Airport from 3 West African countries in a stepped up effort meant to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus.
Federal health officials said the entry screenings, which is supposed to be expanded to Atlanta’s Hartsfield – Jackson International Airport, add another layer of protection to halt the spread of a disease that has killed more than 4,000 people.
Custom’s officials will take temperatures and ask passengers about where they’ve been, whether they have been exposed to Ebola, and where they will be spending the next few days. If they have reason to believe a passenger is carrying the virus, the passenger will be forced into a quarantine station at the airport. The quarantine stations are to be maintained by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is based in Atlanta.
At that point, federal officials will have to make extremely difficult decisions regarding the passenger. These new set of rules will have to balance the public health against the rights of passengers. Expect litigation to follow soon.
Every state has different laws regarding the forced quarantine of a citizen. People who are quarantined in Georgia have a legal right to challenge their status in court. The majority of states also have some sort of due process requirement for people who are quarantined.
Admittedly, I do not have any medical training and do not know a lot about the characteristics of the Ebola virus. I also do not want to add to the panic that some media outlets are trying to create. However, I do know that it is contagious and deadly. It is obviously something that we do not need in this country.
I am also unsure that the federal government and the CDC are treating this problem responsibly. In Dallas, TX, a man has already died from the virus. He also spread the virus to 2 health care workers who were treating him.
I am not sure how the man got into this country to be treated. However, no one infected with this disease should even be allowed entry into the U.S. Customs officials making judgment calls and possibly violating the Constitutional rights of our citizens coupled with locating quarantines at densely populated airports do not make me feel any more comfortable.
It seems that the only logical solution to this potential outbreak in the U.S. would be for our government to shut down flights arriving from West Africa until the virus is eradicated. Additionally, no one should be allowed to be treated for Ebola in the United States.
I know that some folks will think that these are cold hearted and drastic suggestions. But, this is a serious threat to the public health. We already have porous borders in the southwestern U.S. People around the world can easily enter the United States in modern society. Why not stop the threat of this disease at an obvious entry point.