With Ebolamania in full swing, a phrase that has really bothered me is ‘understandable fear’, because most of the Ebola-related fears are not understandable at all.
Here’s an example of understandable fear. You’re on the subway, and the guy next to you projectile vomits, then turns to you and says, “Boy, that trip to Liberia really knocked the wind out of my sails!” You would be a dope to not be concerned (to say the least).
An unreasonable fear is thinking someone who has no symptoms, especially no fever, can give you the disease–because that can’t happen. At all. The only ‘good’ thing about Ebola virus is that we can identify who can transmit the disease (feverish) and, important, who can’t. Avoiding someone who has no symptoms will protect you as well as changing the motor oil in your car would.
That is to say, not at all.
Over the weekend, I discussed the utter inanity of isolating an asymptomatic nurse who had worked with Ebola patients. While most of the attention was focused on New Jersey, in part because New Jersey Governor Christie’s default personality setting is “asshole” and in part because New Jersey seemed utterly unprepared, other states have also instituted overly strict regulations that are unnecessary. Consider D.C. (boldface mine):
By contrast, local health authorities in Washington on Friday began implementing a more aggressive voluntary isolation procedure, notifying all licensed health-care providers returning from Ebola-affected regions to isolate themselves for 21 days, including from public places such as mass transit, grocery stores and bowling alleys, and to limit physical contact with spouses or others.
Essentially, this is an at-home quarantine for no reason at all. We are denying those who have risked much (or all) their basic freedoms because some of us are foolishly afraid, not because there is a legitimate medical reason to do so. Here’s what that means (boldface mine):
Or look at the case of Kaci Hickox, the Doctors Without Borders nurse detained at Newark Airport. This is what she thought about while she was held, in a tent, even after her Ebola test came back negative:
I recalled my last night at the Ebola management center in Sierra Leone. I was called in at midnight because a 10-year-old girl was having seizures. I coaxed crushed tablets of Tylenol and an anti-seizure medicine into her mouth as her body jolted in the bed.
It was the hardest night of my life. I watched a young girl die in a tent, away from her family.
Imagine coming back from that experience and being told: You cannot see anyone you care about. You cannot go out in public. You will stay alone in a tent, too. You will spend the next three weeks without any human contact whatsoever. You cannot see your spouse, your kids, or your friends. And, by the way, thanks for your service.
“Nurses and doctors everyday risk their lives for patients,” says Linda Greene, an infectious disease specialist and board member of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, which opposes Ebola quarantines. “Our approach to them, when they return, is punishment. Three weeks is a long time.”
To its credit, the CDC’s new guidelines would require daily monitoring–which should be done–but do not call for at-home quarantine, if the worker is asymptomatic and cooperating with authorities.
Leaving the curtailing of civil rights and the basic indecency of confining people for no goddamn reason, these stricter measures clearly haven’t been thought through:
On the off chance she does have Ebola, will the State of New Jersey [or the District] force hospital personnel to remain in quarantine as well? What about all of the people who interrogated her? Will they be quarantined as well? …Most importantly, have they even considered this question?….
In Nebraska, it took forty to sixty people to care for a single patient. We’re going isolate at-home all those medical workers without cause? If we had multiple cases, we would start to run out of trained workers.
Unnecessary fear incurs unnecessary costs. Though if you’re not the one paying those costs, I suppose no sacrifice upon the altar of needless fear is too high…