- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Maybe we need hazmat suits to protect us from our leaders.

The president has two primary jobs: to protect and defend the Constitution, and to protect and defend the American people from all enemies foreign and domestic. At the state level, governors have the same two fundamental obligations.

The Ebola virus is a unique threat: It’s highly contagious, doesn’t discriminate in choosing its victims, kills about 70 percent of those it infects, and currently there is no vaccine.

It is a clear and present danger to the American people.

So when President Obama refused to institute basic, common-sense precautions to protect and defend us from the Ebola contagion — such as a temporary travel ban from Ebola-stricken West Africa and mandatory quarantine for medical workers and others who’ve had direct contact with Ebola patients — three governors took on the job themselves. After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had encouraged state health departments to devise their own plans for dealing with Ebola patients.

In a joint news conference last week in which they denounced the “honor system” of self-monitoring, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced that their states would require mandatory isolation for returning health care workers. Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn then quickly instituted his own state’s quarantine. Several other politically diverse states also added quarantines. A nervous public welcomed the moves.

The White House did not.

Mr. Obama and his team, realizing how impotent he appeared in the face of Messrs. Cuomo’s and Christie’s action, began a full-court press to get them to reverse course.

They dispatched Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to question the “science” of mandatory quarantines and to argue that they could end up dissuading volunteers from traveling to West Africa. These new explanations appeared only after the administration’s first stated reason for opposing a travel ban — that we’d be unable to fly medical personnel in and out of the hot zone — made no sense.

The pressure on Messrs. Cuomo and Christie intensified when the first returning health care worker, nurse Kaci Hickox, was placed in an isolation tent after landing at Newark International Airport. Ms. Hickox — a CDC employee — threw a fit. Saying she had been repeatedly tested, remained asymptomatic and was subjected to “inhumane” treatment, she threatened to sue.

To no one’s surprise, Mr. Cuomo immediately caved. His new policy required only at-home quarantine with twice-daily medical visits. He also announced that New York taxpayers would foot the bill for any lost wages incurred by the quarantined.

When Mr. Christie refused to do a similar about-face, the political gun turrets turned on him. Given that they were not also turned on the other governor who stood firm — Illinois Democrat Pat Quinn — a cynic might suggest that Christie had been set up for an attack. He is, after all, a leading potential Republican candidate for president, and his quarantine action made him look decisive, strong, authoritative.

So the administration swung into action, calling his new regulations “overreach.” Never mind that he and Mr. Cuomo had announced them together, or that Mr. Quinn had announced them as well.

This was about attacking Mr. Christie. If they couldn’t get him on the George Washington Bridge lane-closure controversy, they’d get him on something else.

After the CDC came down on him like a brick house, Mr. Christie chose to minimize his losses and released Ms. Hickox to her home state of Maine.

Meanwhile, according to the New York Police Department, Dr. Craig Spencer, who tested positive for Ebola on his return to New York, “lied” to authorities about gallivanting around the city after developing symptoms.

We honor those who have voluntarily entered the hot zone to help those suffering from this vicious virus. However, they must recognize that having been up close and personal with the contagion, they may present a risk to the greater public. Selflessness in the zone shouldn’t be replaced by selfishness upon the return home.

Three weeks in quarantine is not cruel and unusual punishment. It will not discourage medical folks from traveling to the region.

If it were such a bad idea, why is the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommending mandatory quarantine for all military personnel returning from the area?

If it were such a bad idea, why is one major humanitarian group serving in West Africa — Samaritan’s Purse, headed by the Rev. Franklin Graham — requiring its own 21-day mandatory isolation policy?

Other groups, however, do not. Doctors Without Borders only requires self-quarantine and advises workers not to go back to work for 21 days. If you should avoid work, though, shouldn’t you also avoid your fiance, friends, bowling, shopping and eating in restaurants?

Another group — SIM USA — tells its volunteers to follow CDC guidelines and avoid crowded areas, which also seems odd if you can only contract Ebola through close proximity with bodily fluids.

The American people do not panic easily, but they do expect accurate and timely information, particularly on something as serious as a lethal contagion. They have no tolerance for constantly changing positions based on political games or public relations headaches.

Like the Islamic terrorist threat, Ebola is a life-and-death menace. Yet, like the virus itself, political corruption has wormed its way in. And woe to any leader sworn to protect and defend us if he actually tries to do his job.

Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.


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