No Quarantine In D.C. Area For Arrivals From Ebola Stricken Nations
Unlike New York and New Jersey, there will be no Ebola quarantine in the Washington, D.C. area for people arriving from the west African nations where it has become a crisis:
One day after governors in New York, New Jersey and Illinois imposed a mandatory 21-day quarantine on medical workers returning from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa, public health officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia did not follow suit Saturday, intensifying a national debate over how to prevent the spread of the disease.
Health officials are working to develop a consistent approach for the area around the nation’s capital. Joxel Garcia, director of the D.C. Department of Health, said that a mandatory quarantine was not scientifically justified and could have a chilling effect on the medical personnel, many of them volunteers, needed to treat Ebola patients at home and overseas.
The differing views highlight challenges confronting federal and state politicians as well as health officials as they race to keep up with fast-changing circumstances and competing political, scientific and legal demands, experts said.
Lawrence O. Gostin, a global health professor at Georgetown University Law School and an adviser to the World Health Organization, said quarantining medical workers might sound reassuring, but it is an overreaction that if widely adopted “will come back to haunt us.”
“The more we make it difficult for health workers to stem the epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the more at risk we are,” Gostin said. “Because in the modern global world, you’re not going to be able to put those three countries in cellophane wrap. People will travel to other parts of the world and come in through different countries.”
Critics of current federal monitoring rules say they are too lax, allowing people with potential exposure to Ebola to endanger others. Others say self-monitoring eliminates almost any chance of transmission because Ebola typically is contagious only after symptoms emerge.
Dulles Airport is, of course, one of the five U.S. airports through which arrivals from the Ebola zone are required to arrive in the U.S. under new regulations. Two others — Newark Liberty and JFK Airport — are in the New York/New Jersey area, and the remaining two are Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta and O’Hare in Chicago. There hasn’t been any comment from officials in Illinois or Georgia as of yet about imposing a rule similar to the one that Governors Christie and Cuomo imposed on Friday, but even with just the D.C area not imposing the same quarantine it gives people arriving from overseas a way to enter the U.S. without facing the prospect of being quarantined for three weeks. If the same is true in Illinois and/or Georgia, then it would seem to me that the quarantine in the New York area will essentially end up being nothing more than symbolism.
Update: Illinois has enacted its own quarantine policy for “high risk travelers” from the nations dealing with the Ebola outbreak. There doesn’t appear to have been any decision in Georgia for arrivals at Hartsfield-Jackson.