Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey caved today. He tried to deny it. But neither he nor anyone else can mitigate what he did: first declare a twenty-one-day quarantine, then relent on it. That kind of relenting could get millions of people killed.
Last Friday (October 24), Chris Christie, and his counterpart Andrew Cuomo of New York, both declared mandatory twenty-one-day quarantines for any person:
- Returning from the area of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and
- Showing a symptom or symptoms of viral hemorrhagic fever.
Kaci Hickox, a nurse, landed at Liberty International Airport (Newark, N.J.) after returning from Sierra Leone in Africa. (The Ebola outbreak affects Sierra Leona, Guinea, and Liberia.) When she landed, she showed a fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit. New Jersey health authorities took her into custody. They brought her to University Hospital in Newark. There the staff pitched a plastic tent outside the hospital and confined Ms. Hickox to this tent. They gave her a portable commode to use. According to her protest in the Dallas Morning News, they dressed her in paper “scrubs.”
The trouble began when the emergency-department staff took her temperature again: 98.6 Fahrenheit. Textbook normal. On that basis she insists she never had a fever, that the airport immigration staff misread their thermometer. To support her story further, serum tests for Ebola both came back negative.
She protested the quarantine loudly. She even claimed the authorities were abridging her human rights. Finally she “lawyered up” and threatened to sue.
This morning, Chris Christie blinked. He arranged to put her on a private, chartered flight to her home State of Maine. He claimed to seek clearance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The CDC cleared her, and she left the tent and flew back to Maine.
The first wrong thing: why is anyone, repeat anyone, from the stricken region flying commercially? They should be flying charter flights or Air Mobility Command special missions only. She would have done better to fly on a C-37 into McGuire Air Force Base (the Burlington County unit of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst), as a guest of the 305th Air Mobility Wing, than on a commercial airliner into Liberty.
Second: everyone from the stricken area should wait out the twenty-one days. True, the staff could have done better than to pitch a tent on the hospital lawn and call that an isolation ward. But the authorities needed to confine her somewhere for the incubation period for Ebola.
Third: if she wanted to sue, let her. Chris Christie seemed eager to get her out of his hair. But a legal precedent upholding the quarantine, and setting rules for its trigger, enforcement and the living conditions of quarantine, would fill a gaping void.
Fourth: the CDC have proved themselves sorely lacking in the last few weeks. Dr. Thomas Frieden, its director, played the used-car salesman once too often earlier this month. To trust his agency to clear anyone for release, after they cleared another nurse who then flew commercially with a fever, is worse than absurd.
But Chris Christie insists he did not reverse himself.
I didn’t reverse any decision, why are you saying I reversed my decision?
Note carefully: he repeats himself.