A recent report released by the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership and the American Civil Liberties Union has attempted to review the quarantine measures implemented in response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic.
The report reviewed at least 40 cases across 18 states where individuals received quarantine orders linked to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Further, the report states an additional 233 individuals went into “voluntary quarantines” to avoid legal action. It should be noted that these numbers may be underestimated as only 6 state departments of health responded to requests for information, and therefore, the report was largely based upon news information. In addition, the United States military imposed quarantines on nearly 3,000 service members who assisted with the Ebola cleanup.
The report looks at individuals who implemented quarantines and those who were subject to said quarantines. The reviews and commentary between those who enacted the quarantines and those subject to the quarantines are starkly contrasting. Dr. Jay K. Varma, the deputy health commissioner in New York City who quarantined three people said: “I do think our decisions were based on the best available evidence.” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention justified his quarantine decisions by asking: “Can you imagine what it would have been like for the people of Iowa if it had become endemic in Africa?” In contrast, those individuals subject to the quarantine explained that they were never given any official paperwork, a formal explanation of the quarantine, or even what could be done to fight it. Further, they were left without basic necessities. According to the report, no one subject to such quarantines developed Ebola.
Those who question the legality of the quarantines explain that states wishing to impose restrictions stricter than their federal counterpart must have clear and convincing evidence that quarantine is necessary to protect public health and safety. However, it is clear that defining a balance between individual liberty and national health safety, as the report attempts, deserves much more attention.