So this part from a Washington Post story about the Ebola quarantine rules that were put in place has been making the rounds on the intertoobz:
“It seems a quarantine would be unnecessary,” said John Ard, an anesthesiologist affiliated with Bellevue and NYU Langone Medical Center. “We should stick with the science and avoid hysterical overreaction.”
But Tom Sullivan, who was working on a construction project a block from Bellevue, said quarantines make sense for returning health workers. “You’re working with diseased people. That’s common sense. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.”
Unlike some, I’m not bothered that the Post decided to run a quote by someone who isn’t a microbiologist. After all, an ordinary citizen came up with this gem:
“Oh, lovely,” said Brooke Christensen, who lives in the building, after learning about her neighbor [who was isolated with Ebola].
“I’m not concerned,” she said. “I’ve had no fluid exchanges with my neighbors.”
No, what bothers me is that the Post gave voice to a misinformed and stupid opinion, at a time when we really can’t afford that.
Sure, I’m probably not going to be on Mr. Sullivan’s Christmas card list (wasn’t likely anyway), but his opinion is stupid. First, health workers work with far less protection around patients with tuberculosis and HIV, both potentially deadly diseases, and we don’t quarantine them. So it’s not “obvious” at all. In fact, the data are overwhelmingly clear: if there is no or little fever, there is no possibility of Ebola transmission. It is the exact opposite of common sense to overreact to an imaginary, non-existent Ebola virus, when the real thing is doing enough damage as it is. It defies common sense not to take advantage of any biology that works in our favor.
It is also not common sense to impose absolutely unnecessary and draconian rules on those healthcare workers fighting this epidemic–and who will likely respond to future epidemics. While many people are disappointed in our healthcare system (including me), it doesn’t seem to occur to some people that healthcare responders might, at the same time, be disappointed in some of us and some of those whom we elect to govern us. To spend several weeks watching a lot of people die, only to be treated harshly as a result of imaginary concerns does not engender trust in us. Forget this epidemic (well, actually, don’t–go give some moolah to MSF), when the next one hits–and there will be a next one of something–healthcare workers will want to hear how they’ll be treated after they do their public service. Unlike Ebola, many potential diseases move a lot faster (e.g., influenza), so there may not be time to waste assuring healthcare workers.
That’s common sense.