Amid the hype and hysteria over a mere handful of Ebola cases in the U.S., states are rushing to put policies in place to prevent the spread of this deadly virus. Back in the 1930s, quarantine policies were already in place and implemented for more common diseases, such as scarlet fever. A family would be ordered to stay at home, and officials would put up a notice on the door and quarantine tape around the property to alert the public to stay away. The quarantine period for scarlet fever lasted 30 days, according to my grandparents, who were quarantined when one of their children came down with scarlet fever. They said there was no point in sending their child to the hospital because there was no treatment available. With home care by loving parents, that child survived.
Today the situation is more complex due to extensive international travel. In the 1930s, few people traveled more than 100 miles. Air travel was a pastime for the wealthy, and immigrants came on ships that docked at immigration processing centers. Today we have tourists, immigrants and returning citizens coming in by hundreds and thousands every day at dozens of seaports and airports. As a result, each state needs the authority and resources to screen those who might be carrying the Ebola virus.
In his weekly email newsletter, California Assembly member Tim Donnely says:
According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), there continues to be no reported or confirmed cases of Ebola in California.
State Health Officer and CDPH Director Dr. Ron Chapman took action to help prevent any potential spread of the disease in the state by issuing a quarantine order and associated guidelines which require counties to individually assess persons at risk for Ebola and tailor an appropriate level of quarantine as needed.
This flexible, case-by-case approach will ensure that local health officers throughout the state prevent spread of the disease, while ensuring that individuals at risk for Ebola are treated fairly and consistently.
The full order is available online at
The Los Angeles Times summarizes the order:
In California, county health officials will have the ability to screen passengers arriving from Ebola-stricken regions in West Africa, or who have worked with infected patients, to determine if they’re at risk for the disease and if they should be quarantined for the virus’ three-week incubation period.
Failure to comply with a quarantine order could result in misdemeanor criminal charges.
This might have the appearance of police-state policies, but when it comes to public health, quarantine is a necessary and acceptable measure to stop the spread of disease. This is especially true in the case of Ebola because there is no established treatment for it. All medical efforts to help that patient are speculative and experimental. If the states did not enact and implement policies such as this, communities would need to do it on their own, as they did in the scarlet fever epidemic of the 1930s.