Why Massachusetts Isn’t Imposing Quarantines on Ebola Health Care Workers

The policies in New York and New Jersey attracted controversy over the weekend.

Associated Press

Associated Press

Massachusetts has so far declined to force health care workers returning from tending to Ebola patients to observe a mandatory three-week quarantine. That means they’ve avoided the furor surrounding the policies in New York and New Jersey this weekend.

WBUR reports that Gov. Deval Patrick thinks the policy would be unnecessary:

“It’s probably a step further than we need here in the Commonwealth,” Gov. Deval Patrick said in comments provided by his press office, “but we’re prepared. It’s certainly a step further than what the CDC has recommended.”

New York and New Jersey came to different, and controversial, conclusions this past week. Both states’ governors said that health care workers who had tended to Ebola-stricken patients would be kept in a three-week quarantine upon their return. This went beyond the CDC’s recommendations and attracted criticism from health care professionals and the White House. The policy got especial scrutiny when Kaci Hickox, a nurse from Maine who had tended to Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, published an editorial in the Dallas News describing her arrival to the United States on Friday at Newark Liberty International Airport. After hours of harsh interviews, she was escorted to a hospital where she is being kept in an isolation tent with a portable toilet, but no shower or television. Hickox wrote:

I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine.

Both New York and New Jersey have since announced that they will allow those who show no symptoms of the disease to spend their quarantines at home. The changes were seen as a response to criticism from the federal government and health care medical experts who, like Hickox, worried that the harsh treatment would discourage health care workers from offering aid to those in West Africa.

Massachusetts, in declining to implement a mandatory quarantine policy in the first place, avoided becoming one of those states whose stringent policy came under fire. But that’s not to say that Gov. Patrick didn’t see the reasoning behind his fellow governors’ decisions.

“I understand why they are going to the extent they are going to, because two of the five receiving airports are in New York and New Jersey,” Patrick said to WBUR. Because Massachusetts is not one of the states that will directly receive workers returning from West Africa, we’re not screening workers upon their entry into the country. Our decisions are attracting less scrutiny than those in New Jersey and New York in the first place.

Ebola has become a topic subject to intense public fear and concern about how to balance public calm with precautions for public health. For now, though, Massachusetts is avoiding the harshest scrutiny.