The Scariest Public Health Threat? Ignorance.

National Physicians Alliance members and leadership were deeply disappointed and disturbed this weekend by New Jersey Governor Christie’s decision to require the arbitrary quarantine of an asymptomatic nurse who had returned from serving overseas to help address the disastrous Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, and by New York Governor Cuomo’s announcement that New York state would require a similar quarantine. This was despite the fact that medical research and evidence has clearly demonstrated that unless a patient is ill (fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.), they cannot transmit Ebola even if they may have been infected.
We are glad to hear today that Ms. Kaci Hickox, who was detained in New Jersey, has been released, and that Gov. Cuomo has since rescinded his recommendation for involuntary quarantine. A political decision to quarantine someone who poses no health threat naturally stokes fear.  It is irresponsible. The more serious threat to public safety are leaders who promote panic over science—leaders who act rashly with no regard for clinical evidence or the expert guidance of experienced public health professionals.
Medical evidence and effective interventions should guide how we work with patients who may have been infected with Ebola and those family members and healthcare professionals who have potentially been in contact with those patients. Decisions of who may need to be monitored for symptoms, or who may need active observation or treatment, should be made based upon medical evidence. Public health professionals are hard at work to define and implement best practices, and any politician who aspires to national office should demonstrate the wisdom to follow their lead.