Odds are that you’ve never heard of this peculiar portion of American history and, unless you have a particular interest in venereal disease, sex workers rights or public health policy, there’s no reason why you should. Our nation has never been too keen on highlighting the ways in which it has violated the supposedly inalienable rights of its citizens in the past, especially when they’re still violating those same rights in the present. With the supposed threat of a domestic Ebola outbreak preoccupying the American 24 hour news complex and the added bonus of the opportunity for political posturing only weeks before a vital midterm election, some US politicians have decided to turn the crisis into their own political football.

The most egregious example of this pseudo-scientific posturing is from the bipartisan duo of New York and New Jersey Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, who apparently obtained masters degrees in Public Health overnight and have enacted strict quarantine policies for people returning from West Africa who have had contact with Ebola patients. Governor Christie echoed the inane violations of civil rights perpetrated nearly a century ago on prostitutes and “impure” women by quarantining Kaci Hickox, a nurse who had been working with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) to help people in Sierra Leone who were enduring the ravages of Ebola. Upon landing in New Jersey, Hickox, who was asymptomatic for Ebola or any other disease for that matter, was promptly detained and quarantined in a tent equipped with the luxury of a portable toilet, but without a shower or television.


The brave men and women fighting Ebola in West Africa deserve so much better than this

Christie’s reasons for keeping Hickox quarantined had nothing to do with his professed concern for the health of the people of New Jersey and everything to do with political grandstanding and fearmongering in the fortnight prior to an election. Hickox just happened to be the unlucky lady to be the first healthcare worker back from West Africa since Christie and Cuomo announced their new 21-day mandatory quarantine policy. The fact that public health officials and medical doctors were decrying the policy as unnecessary, harmful and “like driving a carpet tack with a sledgehammer” didn’t matter. In the myopic world of Governor Christie, she’s a threat because I say she’s a threat.

The nurses and doctors and public health officials who are working in West Africa should not be cordoned off and treated like tainted goods. These people should be honored like the heroes that they are. I have thought on this long and hard and I honestly don’t think I would ever be brave enough and selfless enough to do the work they do. To wake up every morning with the knowledge that that day could be the day that some infinitesimal virus invades the sanctity of my body and sets in motion a hemorrhagic fever that could very well kill me? I don’t know if I could do that, but thousands of men and women like Kaci Hickox are doing that right now and they should be celebrated and encouraged, not shoved away in makeshift tents because we’re too fearful to confront the reality of this disease.

If Governor Christie was truly serious about protecting the citizens of New Jersey, he would know that the best way to ensure that Ebola never makes it to the Jersey Shore is to fight it at the source. Whether it’s Ebola or it’s Syphilis, Governor Christie should know that you can’t quarantine your way out of public health crisis. Especially when the people you’re quarantining aren’t sick to begin with.