Ebola Non-Heroes

In remarks made yesterday from the White House, President Obama said that healthcare workers who have treated Ebola patients in West Africa are “American heroes” who must be treated with “dignity and respect” (see here). The recent actions of two health workers, however, have been less than heroic since their return to the U.S. These two have shown little respect for their fellow Americans and seem unable to even comprehend the most basic requirements of heroism in the Ebola context.

Dr. Craig Spencer returned to New York after a stint in Guinea and bounced around the city for several days before developing symptoms that landed him in isolation at Bellevue Hospital, diagnosed with Ebola (see here). He not only behaved irresponsibly after arriving in the U.S. – subway, bowling, jogging – but he lied to investigators who needed to trace his contacts, claiming that he isolated himself in his apartment (see here). Only after detectives confronted him with his subway card and credit card charges did he tell the truth.

And then there is Kaci Hickox, a nurse who returned to the U.S. after working for four weeks in Sierra Leone. Upon arrival, New Jersey officials placed her in 21-day quarantine, but released her to go home to Maine where she is under voluntary quarantine (see here). Since her return, Hickox has done nothing but complain about the quarantine, even going so far as to hire a lawyer. And yesterday during a nationally televised interview, she stated her intention to ignore the quarantine and followed that up today with a bike ride.

Spencer and Hickox are something to behold. Obama talks about the “sacrifices” that healthcare workers make when they help fight Ebola, but the administration and other liberals fail to understand that the idea of sacrifice in this instance includes more than three or four weeks treating Ebola patients. It also requires volunteers to lay low for 21 days after they return from West Africa. People like Spencer and Hickox want to do the first part of the sacrifice, but not the second.

Hickox claims that she feels good and shows no symptoms of Ebola. Evidently, returning health workers should simply monitor themselves and promptly present themselves at a hospital if they detect symptoms of Ebola. Of course, the line between symptomatic and asymptomatic or between contagious and noncontagious is not clear, but we’re supposed to trust Hickox to know where that line is and to do the right thing. Except that Spencer’s example shows that health workers cannot be trusted.

Administration officials claim that if we expect health workers to lay low for 21 days, fewer people will volunteer to help, but this is nonsense. Anyone truly concerned with helping others would welcome the 21-day quarantine period as part of the process. In fact, we might suspect that those who refuse the latter half of the sacrifice are less concerned with helping Ebola victims than they are with patting themselves on the back or using the experience to pad their resumes. Spencer and Hickox are arrogant and self-centered non-heroes, and we must hope they are the exception rather than the rule.

Note: According to one report, Hickox has tested negative for the Ebola virus. This fact, however, has not been repeated elsewhere, which raises questions of credibility. If a reliable test exists to clear a person sooner than 21 days after the last contact with an Ebola patient, then the quarantine period could obviously be reduced accordingly.

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