Ebola could com­pli­cate hol­i­day travel

Quar­an­tines make some aid work­ers re­think Africa trip

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

The hol­i­day sea­son could present a ma­jor prob­lem for the fight against Ebola, as states and aid work­ers try to fig­ure out how — or even whether — Amer­i­can doc­tors and nurses treat­ing pa­tients in West Africa will be able to come home for Christ­mas.

Even as the White House tries to re­cruit medics to fight the dis­ease in Ebola hot zones, the fight over their even­tual re­turn to the U.S. is roil­ing.

A Maine nurse who worked with pa­tients in Sierra Leone told Gov. Paul LePage that she would not stay in­doors while she re­mains symp­tom-free, and aid work­ers say a hodge­podge of quar­an­tine rules makes it dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine whether a worker can re­turn to the U.S. with­out be­ing stuck for three weeks.

“Lo­gis­ti­cally, it re­ally hurts us, be­cause we’re try­ing to move our teams into and out of West Africa,” said Gavin Mac­gre­gorSkin­ner, a Penn State Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who man­ages Ebola re­sponse ef­forts for the El­iz­a­beth R. Grif­fin Re­search Foun­da­tion.

“Peo­ple want to go out there for two or three weeks and come back for New Year’s and Christ­mas for a week,” he said. “They don’t want to come back for 21 days.”

Work­ers re­turn­ing from dif­fi­cult con­di­tions in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea say some U.S. states’ mea­sures de­signed to pro­tect pub­lic health lack sci­en­tific merit, vi­o­late their lib­er­ties and un­rea­son­ably ex­tend their sac­ri­fices in the fight against a virus that has killed nearly 5,000 in West Africa.

Pres­i­dent Obama said last week that health care work­ers fight­ing Ebola abroad should be hailed as he­roes and not in­con­ve­nienced at home — an im­plicit re­buke to states with strict iso­la­tion mea­sures. In White House speeches, he said the fight in West Africa is paramount to pro­tect­ing Americans at home.

In re­sponse, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who es­tab­lished one of the stricter poli­cies, said Wed­nes­day that he doesn’t need “seven-minute lec­tures from the South Lawn.”

Lawrence O. Gostin, a global health law pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, said he thinks work­ers should be able to go back to the af­fected re­gion if they do not pose risks to fel­low trav­el­ers.

“Go­ing back would mean get­ting on a crowded plane, but if there were screen­ing for fever and symp­toms, it ap­pears to me that this is well within rea­son,” he said. “The prob­lem is that po­lit­i­cal ac­tors al­ways haven’t be­haved rea­son­ably. But if we don’t al­low respite for health work­ers, we are dig­ging our­selves in deeper by dis­cour­ag­ing the ded­i­cated vol­un­teers that we ur­gently need.”

Gover­nors have been swift to com­mend health care work­ers fight­ing Ebola, but a fear­ful pub­lic is an in­flu­en­tial coun­ter­weight and has shaped their pol­i­cy­mak­ing.

Maine of­fi­cials lost their court bat­tle with nurse Kaci Hickox, who re­fused to stay in her home un­til Nov. 10. But states do pos­sess wide lat­i­tude to im­pose quar­an­tines un­der polic­ing pow­ers. As a re­sult, le­gal schol­ars say, nu­ance may have to suf­fer.

“Quar­an­tines are in­her­ently over­broad. Peo­ple might miss kids’ birth­day par­ties, wed­dings, the last Rolling Stones tour,” said Eu­gene Kon­torovich, a law pro­fes­sor at North­west­ern Univer­sity. “They might also miss a flight out of the ju­ris­dic­tion. It seems hard to work around that, with­out po­ten­tially ex­pos­ing peo­ple at the air­port on the re­turn leg.”

Un­der new guide­lines from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion, a per­son in a “high-risk” or “some-risk” cat­e­gory would be un­able to get back onto a plane to travel to West Africa, but some­one in a low-risk cat­e­gory who helped the ef­fort in West Africa with­out treat­ing pa­tients could be cleared for travel.

Aid work­ers are quick to note that Ebola is not tak­ing a hol­i­day, so they will not be rest­ing from fight­ing the vi­ral dis­ease at its source.

As a prac­ti­cal mat­ter, it is un­clear how many peo­ple would be caught up in quar­an­tine.

Flights to and from West Africa are in­fre­quent and pricey, so some Amer­i­can aid work­ers could not re­turn within three weeks, said Jim Walker, a re­tired Marine bri­gadier gen­eral and deputy di­rec­tor of Sa­mar­i­tan’s Purse, which has 17 field staffers, most of them Americans, in West Africa.

Even so, he said, “we would not bring any­one back to the U.S. be­cause we think in some way or form they would be caught up in the 21 days” of quar­an­tine.


Nurse Kaci Hickox seen in an iso­la­tion tent in Ne­wark, New Jersey, where she was quar­an­tined fol­low­ing her work in West Africa. Health work­ers say some mea­sures lack sci­en­tific merit and vi­o­late their lib­er­ties by un­rea­son­ably ex­tend­ing their sacrifice.

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