Clippings: Quarantining man right move for Vt.
It seemed to be only a matter of time before far-flung headlines about Ebola in Africa hit a little closer to home. That time came last Monday, when Gov. Shumlin announced that a man who had visited West Africa to investigate Ebola was back in Vermont.
Things got weirder from there. The man, Peter Italia, said he is a doctor, but is not licensed in Vermont. He traveled to Guinea by himself and tried to link up with established aid organizations, which turned him away, he said, because he is not a credentialed health professional.
Undeterred, he ventured around the countryside, and illegally crossed into the hot zone, to investigate the virus that has killed more than 5,000 Africans and infected more than 10,000 more.
His dubious medical credentials and posts on social media, which graced the topics of time travel and unorthodox medicine must have alarmed Vermont officials, who sent the Rutland County sheriff and a Health Department employee down to John F. Kennedy International Airport to intercept Italia.
After spending one night in a Rutland motel, Italia is holed up in an undisclosed location in Rutland County, under voluntary quarantine. The Burlington Free Press reported that Italia said he would abide by the voluntary 21-day quarantine, set to expire Nov. 17. But what if he doesn’t?
Worth noting is that it’s unclear how “voluntary” Italia’s quarantine actually is. According to the Freeps, Italia said state officials “required him” to sign a voluntary quarantine form. He said a police officers sits in a cruiser outside the home.
If he chooses to leave his home, to run errands in town or see a movie? Should, or could, the state force him to stay in his home?
That may be more difficult than you think. In Maine last week, a judge rejected the state’s arguments to forcibly quarantine a 33-year-old nurse who had treated Ebola patients in Africa.
The judge instead ordered less restrictive monitoring, and said that the state did not demonstrate that the nurse posed an immediate public health risk, since people with Ebola cannot transmit the virus until they present symptoms, which she did not have.
But how can health professionals pinpoint exactly when this symptoms — as innocuous as fever, severe headache and fatigue — begin? What if Italia were to develop symptoms while in public?
Then, health officials would have to track down every single person he came into contact with, much as they did in New York City when a doctor back from West Africa fell ill.
Ebola, according to federal officials, does not pose a grave risk to the United States. Unlike highly communicable diseases like influenza, which kills as many as 50,000 Americans in a bad year, Ebola can only be spread by direct contact with an infected person or their bodily fluids.
To date, the only people who have contracted Ebola within the U.S. have been health workers treating patients who picked up the disease in Africa.
But here’s one more twist that raises concern. The New York Times reported Oct. 26 that federal officials “urgently investigated” a man who posted on social media that he was going to West Africa to purposefully contract Ebola and bring it back to the United States.
The government didn’t disclose who that man was, but VTDigger.org’s Morgan True drew a number of similarities between the government’s comments and Italia.
“That man appears to be Italia,” True wrote.
If that were to be true, would it not be prudent to forcibly quarantine Italia for the 21-day period during which people who may have contracted Ebola can present symptoms?
We must take detaining someone who is not accused of committing a crime with utmost seriousness. But the government has an interest, and the right, to protect public health by quarantining people who may have contracted Ebola.
Should Italia leave the residence in which he is staying, Vermont should seek to force him to stay inside, in what is tantamount to house arrest.
There is a lot of hysteria surrounding Ebola, which the Centers for Disease Control says poses little risk to the United States, but quarantining Italia, given the questions surrounding his visit to Africa, would be a prudent step to protect public health.
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