Mandatory Quarantines Alarm Ebola Workers About to Come Home

PHOTO: Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save The Children. Save the Children
Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save The Children.

Gregg Ramm is helping battle Ebola in Liberia, but he fears that if he comes home like he plans in two weeks he will be put in quarantine and will miss Thanksgiving with his family.

He also believes that the mandatory quarantine policy by New Jersey and New York will make recruiting doctors and nurses to care for Ebola patients -- already difficult -- even harder.

Ramm said volunteers in Liberia are alarmed by the pictures of nurse Kaci Hickox, who treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, being quarantined in a tent at a New Jersey hospital after arriving on a flight at Newark Airport on Friday. Hickox was discharged today and was en route to her home in Maine.

“Of course this does not make me happy and it also doesn’t make sense,” said Ramm, the interim country director in Liberia for Save the Children.

Ramm, 52, has been in the Ebola-ravaged West African country for four weeks and plans to return to the U.S. in about two weeks. He said he is worried that he will be stuck in quarantine for three weeks.

“I was planning on spending Thanksgiving with my family,” said Ramm, who lives in Washington, D.C. “It is difficult to imagine remaining in a tent for 21 days like that nurse I saw on the news today.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said today that health care workers returning from West Africa can be quarantined in their homes if they are not showing any symptoms, like a fever or vomiting. The rules for New York and other states are similar.

Hickox was held in quarantine in New Jersey because there were no immediate plans to get her safely to Maine and she then briefly developed a fever while in quarantine.

Ramm, who would land in Washington's Dulles Airport, said that aid and healthcare workers based in Liberia are buzzing about the new quarantine rules. Most people find them confusing and unclear, he said, and the prevailing opinion is that mandatory quarantine is an unnecessary and unscientific step.

Since the virus cannot spread unless a person shows symptoms, they believe it is a waste of time to keep people segregated when they are healthy and monitoring body temperature on a regular basis, he said. Ramm said taking your temperature several times daily is already a way of life in Liberia.

Ramm said he and others are also worried about what the quarantines will do to their recruiting efforts.

“Getting people to come here and help is already a difficult job. This will only make it harder,” he said.

It’s unclear how many foreign aid workers are currently treating Ebola patients in the West Africa. Save the Children currently has 34 staff members in various parts of West Africa, a spokesman for the organization said. Spokesmen for the World health Organization and Doctors Without Borders said that both organizations have had over 700 personnel travel to affected countries since the outbreak began in March. Neither group could immediately pinpoint how many of these were American.