WALLER, Texas — Florida Governor Rick Scott announced an executive order mandating twice-daily health screening for all travelers returning from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone for a period of 21 days. Scott joins other governors in calling for some type of monitoring or quarantine for people returning from Ebola affected countries. The moves by these governors raises the question about the balance between liberty and security.
Last week, New Jersey Governor (and Republican presidential hopeful) Chris Christie joined with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and implemented a mandatory 21-day quarantine for all health workers returning from treating Ebola patients in West Africa according to a CNN article by Ray Sanchez. Mehlor Marie Leonor with the Miami Herald wrote Gov. Scott’s executive order effects all travelers returning from these countries.
While Florida currently does not have any reported cases of Ebola, the Florida Department of Health has already identified four people who have arrived in Florida after visiting one of the listed countries. Florida officials did not release any details about how Gov. Scott’s executive order would be enforced. It was stated however, that anyone who was deemed to be “high risk” would be ordered into a mandatory quarantine.
In a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas, Governor Scott said, “This executive order will give the Florida Department of Health [DOH] the authority they need to conduct 21-day health monitoring and risk assessments for all those who have returned or will return to Florida from the CDC designated Ebola-affected areas of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. We have asked the CDC to identify the risk levels of all returning individuals from these areas, but they have not provided that information. Therefore, we are moving quickly to require the four individuals who have returned to Florida already – and anyone in the future who will return to Florida from an Ebola area – to take part in twice daily 21-day health evaluations with DOH personnel.
“I want to be clear that we are taking this aggressive action at the state level out of an abundance of caution in the absence of much-needed Ebola risk classification information from the CDC,” Gov. Scott continued. “We are using what information is available to our Department of Health through the CDC’s Epi-X web-based system, which monitors individuals who travel to areas with infectious diseases, including Ebola. Using this system, we know that four individuals have already returned to Florida after traveling to Ebola-affected areas. Following the news of Dr. Craig Spencer testing positive for Ebola in New York, DOH began working to identify anyone who has already returned to Florida after traveling to an Ebola area and is aggressively investigating how much risk these individuals pose for contracting the disease. We will take further action to protect the health of these individuals, and our communities, if we determine any of them are at a ‘high risk’ of contracting the disease. Further action by the Florida Department of Health will include mandatory quarantine of anyone we suspect is at high-risk of testing positive for Ebola due to the type of contact they had with the disease.”
“Mandatory twice-daily health monitoring will help us obtain important information that will assist us in caring for the Floridians who are returning to our state and preventing any spread of this deadly disease if one of these individuals ever develops possible Ebola symptoms within 21 days of their return. Again, we are glad we do not have a case of Ebola in Florida, but we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure we never do.”
Breitbart Texas responded to the Governor’s statement questioning the constitutional authority to order someone into a mandatory 21-day health monitoring program when they may have had no exposure to anyone with Ebola or anyone who had contact with an Ebola patient. A response to this inquiry was not immediately available. A copy of the Governor’s executive order is attached below.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) also issued an executive order mandating that anyone having direct contact with an Ebola infected person while in the three African nations listed above be quarantined for a 21-day period according to a Chicago Tribune article by Carlos Sadovi.
“This protective measure is too important to be voluntary,” Quinn said in a statement. “While we have no confirmed cases of the Ebola virus in Illinois, we will continue to take every safeguard necessary to protect first responders, health care workers and the people of Illinois.”
Understandably, Doctors Without Borders, the humanitarian group that sends doctors all over the world to assist countries facing major health crisis, expressed concern about the mandatory nature of these executive orders. The organization claims that mandatory quarantines could negatively effect the willingness of doctors and nurses to travel to countries with Ebola outbreaks and provided treatment.
According to the CNN article referenced above, Nurse Kaci Hickox is undergoing a mandatory 21-day quarantine despite the fact she has twice tested negative for the Ebola virus. She texted a friend, Dr. Seema Yasmin that she is showing no symptoms of Ebola.
Doctors Without Borders issued a written statement stating Hickox is being housed in an unheated tent adjacent to the hospital. This was confirmed in a text message from Hickox to Yasmin.
Gov. Christie responded in a press conference Saturday stating he was “sorry if in any way she (Hickox) was inconvenienced,” but stated that the public health and safety of the people of New Jersey are his “first and foremost obligation.” Christi disputed Hickox’ health claims stating she was “obviously ill.”
“I had spent a month watching children die, alone,” she wrote. “I had witnessed human tragedy unfold before my eyes. I had tried to help when much of the world has looked on and done nothing. … I sat alone in the isolation tent (in New Jersey) and thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a statement on Sunday demanding that Gov. Christie provide more information about how the state came to the conclusion that the mandatory quarantine was medically necessary. The group said it has “serious constitutional concerns about the state abusing its powers” according to an article by Claude Brodesser-Akner in NJ.com. Coercive measures like mandatory quarantine of people exhibiting no symptoms of Ebola and when not medically necessary raise serious constitutional concerns about the state abusing its powers,” said Udi Ofer, exectutive director of the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU.
“By forcibly detaining people we are also frightening the public and may deter genuinely sick people who fear quarantine from seeking the treatments they deserve, while also discouraging caregivers and first responders from helping sick patients who need their assistance,” said Ofer, adding, “This is a challenging time for New Jersey, but decisions must be made based on sound medicine, and not on fear. Governor Christie must provide more information to the public about how the state came to the conclusion that mandatory quarantine of our healthcare workers was medically necessary.”
“We are no longer relying on CDC standards. We will ensure that New York and New Jersey standards are met,” Christie said at the Friday news conference.
Cuomo agreed, and called the notion of voluntary quarantine “almost an oxymoron.”
It is unclear what under what constitutional authority an American citizen who is not ill with an infectious disease could be held against their will in a mandatory quarantine.
Bob Price is a staff writer and a member of the original Breitbart Texas team. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX.