The continuing carnival of the absurd with respect to nurse Kaci Hickox has continued today as Morning Joe reports (no video or other confirmation yet) that Hickox has announced that she will not abide by quarantine protocols upon her return to Maine, where she lives. Most of the media over the last 24 hours has focused on the predictable yet infuriating question of whether Chris Christie will apologize to Hickox for placing her in enforced quarantine.
Let’s review the bidding on this particular story. Hickox had been in Sierra Leone in regular contact with Ebola patients. In other words, she was in the exact category of person who represents the vast majority of Ebola transmissions during this particular scare. During her medical screening upon return to the United States, a forehead scan indicated that she was running a temperature of 101, which is to say that she was potentially symptomatic and contagious. Given what we know of the careless disregard that health workers have shown generally towards the concept of voluntary in-home isolation during this Ebola outbreak and given further what we know about Hickox’s demeanor specifically it is eminently reasonable to conclude that she would not voluntarily isolate herself in any meaningful way; in fact, I find it highly likely that Hickox told New Jersey officials that she was not going to listen to their stupid concerns about not going out in public.
In light of these facts, not only should Chris Christie not apologize to Kaci Hickox, as far as I am concerned he deserves to be given a medal as the first responsible public official in this entire affair. I view it of zero significance that the same people who have floundered incompetently through this entire outbreak (to wit, the CDC and NIH) say that the quarantine was not necessary. Their crack diligence is exactly what led to dozens of innocent Americans being unwittingly exposed to Ebola through their blase insistence that it was perfectly safe for symptomatic health workers who were in contact with Ebola patients to, for instance, get on public planes and fly across the country.
I remain of the opinion that this Ebola outbreak will in the grand scheme of things end up being a relatively minor blip, but the main reason I believe this is that I have some level of faith (a level of faith that is admittedly shrinking as each day goes by) that public officials will behave in exactly the way that Christie did, and that high risk potential Ebola carriers (especially those who are symptomatic) will be appropriately quarantined, against their will if necessary.
With respect to Hickox specifically, her lawyer’s idiot bluster aside, she does not have a civil right not to be quarantined to protect the public health. Involuntary quarantine has a lengthy and uncontroversial (at least from a legal standpoint) history in this country dating back to the yellow fever outbreaks in the 1870s. I am not sure what sort of dumb point Hickox is trying to prove, but if the Morning Joe report is correct, and she will not voluntarily confine herself to home, then the LePage administration should absolutely do what they have promised to do, which is to take “appropriate measures” if Hickox refuses to comply with quarantine protocols. If the burden of being required to stay at home and watch TV on the couch is too much for her, then she should go back in tent where the State can ensure the safety of the unwitting public.