Congress Mulling Mandatory Isolation for Returning Ebola Doctors

After a doctor returning from treating patients in West Africa was diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus, some in Congress are proposing that any healthcare worker returning from overseas after treating Ebola patients must be placed in isolation to make sure they are free of the disease.

Doctor Craig Spencer was diagnosed with Ebola upon returning to the US after taking care of Ebola patients in Guinea but when he first came home he was not exhibiting any symptoms. But only days after his return Spencer checked into Bellevue Hospital in New York and in short order was diagnosed with the virus.

The doctor is now in isolation and being treated for Ebola.

Before he began showing symptoms, Dr. Spencer was carrying on his life as normal, riding city mass transit, eating out, even going bowling. This is something that has alarmed lawmakers sparking a motion to make isolation mandatory.

“Is there any reason [not to implement] this proposal?” Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) reportedly asked a witness from the Pentagon. “Why couldn’t you go a little more overboard with the protections?”

Other lawmakers agreed. Utah’s Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz pointed out that self-quarantine has apparently not worked.

“The self-quarantine didn’t work,” Chaffetz said. “It didn’t work in the case of Dr. Spencer, and he’s one of the great people on this earth. … That’s the concern. I don’t know why we wouldn’t put that travel restriction in place.”

Even Oversight Committee Chairman, Maryland Democrat Elijiah Cummings, said that he could support a mandatory quarantine ruling.

“I want us to do whatever is necessary to make sure that our people are safe,” Cummings told the media. “If there are areas where I think we can more effective and efficient, then we need to take a look at those.”

Whether Congress acts or not, on Friday, Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie took the lead and set mandatory isolation rules for any doctor returning to New York and New Jersey if they were overseas to care for Ebola patient.

“The steps New York and New Jersey are taking today will strengthen our safeguards to protect our residents against this disease and help ensure those that may be infected by Ebola are treated with the highest precautions,” Gov. Cuomo in a press conference.

“There will also be a mandatory quarantine for any individual who had direct contact with an individual infected with the Ebola virus while in one of the three West African nations (Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea), including any medical personnel having performed medical services to individuals infected with the Ebola virus,” the governors said in a joint statement.

“Additionally, all individuals with travel history to the affected regions of West Africa, with no direct contact with an infected person, will be actively monitored by public health officials and, if necessary, quarantined, depending on the facts and circumstances of their particular situation.”

Last week three governors initiated their own Ebola quarantines. The governors of New York, New Jersey, and Illinois enacted quarantines on medical workers who had served Ebola patients, but by Monday the two eastern governors had bowed to pressure from the Obama administration to rescind their decisions. By contrast, the governor of Illinois–who is in a tough re-election campaign–refused to rescind his decision.

The Obama administration has been fighting any policy of mandatory quarantine saying it is somehow bad for Ebloa patients in Africa. Obama is also strongly opposed to a temporary ban on travel to this country from West Africa. Even liberal Australia initiated a temporary travel ban.

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