I accept the doctors’ conclusion — mandatory quarantine is a bad idea — but not the way they justify it. You don’t have to be a cynic, a slanted term, to argue for “better safe than sorry.” The calculus isn’t simple, either. The crucial thing, though, is that the doctors’ sensible conclusion doesn’t rest solely on the science.
It requires a delicate judgment about many different risks and costs — the risk of extra U.S. cases in the short run, the risk of discouraging health workers from traveling to West Africa so that the disease keeps spreading there, the cost in civil liberty of restricting people’s movements, and so on. I agree with the doctors about where the balance lies, but the issue isn’t easy and, in any event, it isn’t just about the science of Ebola.
The doctors conclude, “We should be honoring, not quarantining, health care workers who put their lives at risk…” We should indeed be honoring them — and, unless I’m mistaken, we are — but that comment isn’t science; it’s pure politics. Forgive me for stating what should be obvious, but if the facts about the transmission of Ebola were different, one could imagine that mandatory quarantine would be justified; and if it were, the policy would imply no disrespect to the health professionals involved.