Quarantine Protocols and Civil Liberties

When mandatory isolation reeks of benevolent dictatorship.

As technology and globalized markets reach further into previously inaccessible regions, our world veritably shrinks and we risk exposure to exotic diseases. Sometimes, as is the case in recent years, the diseases of old return for an encore performance. I’m sure we all remember the recrudescence of Ebola in West Africa in 2014 and the concomitant fearmongering by public health officials here in the United States; Thomas Frieden, then-director of the CDC, compared the Ebola outbreak to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s. Yes! He seriously said that.

Foolish comments notwithstanding, let’s not be mistaken. Ebola—otherwise known as Ebola virus disease (EVD)—is extraordinarily deadly with, according to the World Health Organization, an average fatality rate of 50%. And Ebola isn’t the only wee-beastie out there. Indeed, many health agencies worldwide acknowledge a category of communicable diseases that don’t receive their due attention and thrive in tropical and subtropical climes—appropriately named neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)—causing considerable hardship to more than a billion people. That’s quite frightening, but as I adamantly maintain: fear is the one true contagion.

Many admirable healthcare workers and volunteers returned from relief efforts in West Africa only to be imprisoned in their homes for twenty-one days, the incubation period for EVD. This is a scandal.

I don’t know as many of my rights as I ought to and I suspect this is true for a lot of people, not just Americans. We are all familiar with legal buzzwords like “freedom of speech,” “human rights,” “due process,” “informed consent,” and “probable cause.” Law & Order—and recent publicized encounters by police with people of color—have been rather instructive. Nonetheless, our civic and legal ignorance can leave us in rather precarious situations which perpetuate negative attitudes towards the justice system, and the government generally.

Would we, when stopped by airport security or customs agents, know whether our rights were being violated? Whether we could be detained based on a list of ambiguous symptoms?

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Fear: The One True Contagion

I hope the reader will forgive me as I comment on the contagions that now litter every news and media outlet. I speak, of course, on Ebola and, more importantly, the fear with which it so poignantly strikes in the hearts and minds of the masses.

By now, the reader has undoubtedly been subjected to a veritable deluge of articles and stories detailing the horrors of Ebola. Ebola isn’t a new virus. Since the discovery of the virus in the latter portion of the 1970’s, a total of five viruses (known under the umbrella term as ebolaviruses) have been discovered, four of which result in the disease in humans.

As you may have noticed, the attention began with the outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa. For those who know the whole story, I shall be brief. In December 2013, Guinea experienced an outbreak of Ebola which eventually spread to its neighbors, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Since that time, the disease has been difficult to contain due to traditional medicine, death and burial rituals, and understaffed and ill-equipped hospitals and treatment centers, to name a few.

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