The Ebola epidemic continued to dominate the headlines over the weekend after a nurse was placed under mandatory quarantine when she arrived to Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey on Friday. The nurse, Kaci Hickox, had been working in Sierra Leone with Doctors Without Borders.
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, along with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, had previously ordered that all people entering the country through New York and New Jersey airports undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine if they had contact with Ebola patients overseas—regardless of whether they exhibit of symptoms.
The White House expressed concern over the mandatory quarantines imposed by both states, and Hickox took her frustrations to the media.
"This is an extreme that is really unacceptable, and I feel like my basic human rights have been violated," Hickox told CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union."
After facing harsh criticism this weekend from Hickox and other members members of the medical community, Gov. Cuomo announced that he was easing up on quarantine orders.
Cuomo said those who exhibit no symptoms can spend their quarantine at home, adding that they will receive compensation for lost income. Those who do not live in New York and New Jersey will be offered housing options during the three-week quarantine period.
Early Monday, Gov. Christie also backtracked, saying that Hickox will be allowed to return home to Maine after doctors and federal officials sign off on the plan. Local health officials in the Pine Tree State will monitor her health to ensure she is not infected with the virus.
Aid workers say that the policies being pushed by New York and New Jersey go beyond guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and will discourage others from going on medical missions to West Africa.
"Some people will say we're being too cautious. I'll take that criticism because it's better than the alternative," Cuomo said during a news conference Sunday.
Meanwhile , Dr. Craig Spencer, the Doctors Without Borders physician who contracted the disease, remains in isolation at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.
Dr. Eric Manheimer was the chief medical officer at Bellevue from 1997 to 2012. He’s currently chief medical officer of a home health care business called Home Health Care. He says that Bellevue has a long history of treating patients in many different areas, including those facing infectious diseases, which is why the hospital was chosen as the site to treat New York area Ebola patients.
“One interesting fact is that Tom Friedman, our current head of the CDC, was in charge of the epidemic of tuberculosis that began in the early 90s,” he says. “Bellevue created an isolation unit on the floor where the patient with Ebola is now to help contain the disease in patients with highly infectious TB.”
Though Ebola claims a high fatality rate, the virus is controlled by the same methods that other infectious diseases call for. When it comes to the treatment of Hickox, who spent the weekend in an isolation tent outside Newark's University Hospital, Dr. Manheimer said it seems that officials were overreacting.
“I think it was unfortunate that the nurse felt that she was really under lock-and-key, separated from her family, and put in a very uncomfortable situation,” he says. “I do believe it was an overreaction by the governor of New Jersey, and even by the governor of New York, initially. However, they were responding to very public fears, and perhaps ambiguous and conflicting messages from the CDC that every hospital can take care of this problem. It’s very clear that every hospital can’t take care of this problem.”
Dr. Manheimer says there should be “designated centers” to properly treat Ebola patients, adding that healthcare workers returning from West Africa need to be treated “respectfully.”
“They can clearly be at home and just be checked on regularly by public health workers to make sure that they’re ok,” he says. “But one does not have to go overboard and have them imprisoned.”
Dr. Manheimer points out that during the SARS outbreak of 2003 officials were able to contain the disease in the U.S. without being too aggressive.
“The key fact here is the Ebola epidemic is really going wild in West Africa,” he says. “That is the source and can be the source of continued spread throughout the globe. We need healthcare workers—it’s been noted that we probably need 250 healthcare workers for every 100 patients that are being treated in West Africa.”
Thousands of highly-trained volunteers—doctors, nurses, and ancillary personnel—are currently needed in West Africa in order to effectively fight the Ebola virus, Dr. Manheimer.
“We’re going to need a critical workforce of thousands and thousands of dedicated people to go there to help contain the virus,” he says. “Ebola is a disease of poverty. It’s a disease in West Africa that has caused enormous destruction in an area that’s been destroyed by civil wars.”
The World Health Organization reported late last week that Liberia remains the country worst hit by the epidemic, with 2,705 reported deaths thus far—a number experts say is a gross underestimation.
Children have been left without parents, and parents without their children. The Ebola virus represents yet another national tragedy for a country that is still recovering from the ravages of a civil war.
Janice Cooper is on the ground in Monrovia, Liberia where she is serving as the acting chair of the psycho-social Ebola incident management team for the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. She explains how Ebola is affecting the psyche of an already fragile nation.
“From a psycho-social perspective, we really are talking about fairly complex trauma for people,” says Cooper. “Think about a country that’s endured 15 years of civil wars. We’re just recovering from that, and some of the horrors of that have caused unresolved trauma for many people.”
Though the wounds of war are still fresh, Liberians are now also grappling with the devastating horrors of Ebola.
“Within the space of less than week, sometimes less than a day, your whole family could be wiped out,” she says. “We have to be very careful when we’re training clinicians and social workers—their very knee jerk and natural instinct to go and hug somebody or hold them may not pertain in certain cases.”
For young people who came of age during the civil war, the Ebola virus presents yet another hurdle to a future that is seemingly out of reach.
“We have a lot of children that are struggling to see where future is,” says Cooper. “But we believe there is a future post-Ebola.”