Let’s give credit where it is due: Nurse Kaci Hickox did an admirable thing going overseas to fight Ebola in West Africa. The 33-year-old medical volunteer put herself in grave danger to serve the least of these in Sierra Leone, where 1,200 people have succumbed to Ebola, and she deserves plaudits for it.
So one is reminded that human beings do, indeed, contain multitudes, when considering Hickox’s comments to Matt Lauer on Wednesday morning’s Today show: “If the restrictions placed on me by the State of Maine are not lifted by Thursday morning, I will go to court to fight for my freedom.”
By way of background: Hickox was the first person to fall under the short-lived mandatory quarantine order instituted late last week by New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Hickox flew into Newark airport last Friday afternoon, registered a fever, and was immediately placed in a quarantine tent outside a Newark hospital. Seen through a plastic window, Hickox’s situation did look rather more Sing Sing than merely sanitizary — which is why by Monday, having tested negative for the disease, she was on her way back to her home in Fort Kent, Maine, to be kept under a legally enforceable home quarantine until 21 days have passed since her last contact with an Ebola patient.
But that is, apparently, not good enough: “I am thankful to be out of the tent in Newark but I find myself in yet another prison in a different environment.”
A more prison-like setup would have been appropriate for Dr. Craig Spencer, the Doctors Without Borders physician diagnosed with Ebola last week (it was his case that prompted the mandatory quarantine orders). The New York Post reports that Dr. Spencer told public health officials he was in “self-quarantine” in his Harlem apartment — when, in fact, he was dining in Greenwich Village, bowling in Brooklyn, and riding the subway system. Authorities only discovered that he had been lying when detectives examined his credit-card statement and subway pass.
For individuals who in their service abroad exemplified Americans’ generosity of spirit, Hickox and Spencer have demonstrated a shocking lack of it since returning back home. Strictly monitored house quarantine — de facto house arrest — is undoubtedly an abrogation of civil liberties. But 21 days of it — lavishly state-funded — to be followed by perfect liberty assuming no problems, seems like a minimal sacrifice to ask of those who put themselves voluntarily in danger. When it comes to a disease that liquefies your internal organs and pushes blood out your eyeballs, “Better safe than sorry” would seem a dictum to which everyone could agree.
So why Hickox’s dissent? There is, first, her insistence on her own wellness: “I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me even though I am in perfectly good health and am feeling strong.” That is reassuring — until she suddenly stops feeling strong and is diagnosed with Ebola. The medical consensus is that a person is likely to be free from the threat of an Ebola onset 21 days after being in contact with the virus. Hickox’s six healthy days since leaving Sierra Leone are encouraging, but it’s a long while until she is out of the woods.
Second, she has said that she will “self-monitor” and report to the hospital if she believes herself symptomatic. But that claim is far from credible — first, because of Spencer’s example, and second, because of her demonstrated disdain for the state’s medical protocols. Does she really expect public-health officials to believe that, if she starts to feel weak and achy, she will immediately submit to their aggressive orders — like, you know, quarantine not in her own living room?
It is a peculiar and repulsive sense of entitlement that is on display in Fort Kent. That a hero abroad can be a menace at home can be, it turns out, rather true of both generals and general physicians.
— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.