HOUSTON, Texas — Amid the Ebola case in Dallas, government officials have been quick to reassure citizens there is little to worry about. Public health officials claim that it is difficult to contract Ebola, as it supposedly only spreads through direct contact with body fluid. Despite such assertions, the virus has enough potential to cause a devastating outbreak that an executive order was passed in 2003 labeling Ebola a “quarantinable communicable disease.” This means that no court order is necessary to quarantine an individual who is not yet ill, but has been exposed to Ebola.
Ebola is one of the relatively few illnesses that are exempt from typical procedural requirements that come with quarantines. Quarantine or isolation associated with disease control is a restraint of constitutionally protected liberty. Like criminal arrest, or involuntary commitment into a mental health facility, legal safeguards must be taken but public health and welfare is also an issue.
President George W. Bush signed an Executive Order in 2003, adding Ebola to the list of quarantinable communicable diseases.
Announcing the order, the CDC released a press release that said, “Based upon the recommendation of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Surgeon General, and for the purpose of specifying certain communicable diseases for regulations providing for the apprehension, detention, or conditional release of individuals to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of suspected communicable diseases, the following communicable diseases are hereby specified pursuant to section 361(b) of the Public Health Service Act.” Ebola is listed under Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers.
Breitbart Texas legal analyst Lana Shadwick said that “the federal government has a right to protect the public health and safety through quarantine but that power is derived from the United States Constitution Commerce Clause’s power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and between states (as well as with Indian Tribes).”
Federal, state, local and tribal health authorities can use quarantine power separately and at the same time under certain situations. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) can also take action when interstate or local controls are inadequate.
The federal government could have acted when Thomas Eric Duncan took that flight to the United States. It did not at that time because he was not symptomatic. State and local authorities took action once the Ebola threat in the City of Dallas became clear.
The Texas Health and Safety Code provides that upon “reasonable cause” a person who is ill with, exposed to, or a carrier of a communicable disease can be quarantined. The state, county, or a municipality, is given the power to act in order to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of disease within the state. Texas law also provides for penalties for a person who knowingly fails or refuses to obey a rule or order or instruction of the Department of Health.
Dr. Peter Jay Hotez, M.D., Ph.D., at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, told Breitbart Texas, “The problem with Ebola is you do not have a margin for error, if contacted, there is a 70 percent mortality rate. Therefore, is becomes important to actively isolate those who are showing symptoms of the disease, or those who have had serious or direct exposure. Most will voluntarily isolate themselves; however, if a person refuses to do so, then public health laws must be used to protect the public. That is the problem in Liberia, there is no easy way to isolate patients.”
It is easy for one to wonder why public health officials appear to be downplaying the threat of a potential Ebola outbreak, especially given that the virus is enough of a threat to be added to the Executive Order.
During an interview with Breitbart News, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul pointed out that the Obama Administration is not seriously articulating the risk to the public. “They’re downplaying and underplaying the risk of this,” Paul said. “They keep emphasizing that it’s so hard to transmit. Well if it’s so hard to transmit why are doctors getting it with masks, gloves, boots and hats–the whole works?”
The feds remain insistent that a potential Ebola outbreak is not enough of a threat to warrant the cancellation of flights from West African countries that are severely afflicted by the virus. On any given day, dozens of flights from Ebola-ridden countries like Liberia are available. In many cases, the flights include layovers in heavily populated US cities, such as in New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
In the face of this, CDC Spokesman Dave Daigle recently admitted that Ebola screening for airplane passengers flying from West Africa to the US is inadequate. He said, “I think he [Duncan] got on the plane asymptomatic, without any symptoms whatsoever… the symptoms occurred after he landed or after he arrived in the US so it’s very difficult to prevent that. I mean the viruses don’t respect borders.”
Passengers taking flights to the US from West African countries have their temperatures taken, in order to check for fevers, prior to boarding planes. But that may not help keep the disease out of the country, since an individual may have Ebola for many days before showing symptoms.