A couple weeks back, Scott Lindquist had a critical decision before him. The Washington Department of Health’s communicable-disease epidemiologist was leading a meeting with the health officers of every county in the state. At that point, several other states had announced quarantines for anybody coming into the country after visiting ebola-affected countries in West Africa. The issue had blown up after a nurse who had treated ebola patients in Sierra Leone returned to the U.S. and found herself quarantined for days in an unheated tent in New Jersey, and then taken to Maine, where she was again ordered quarantined against her will.
Did Washington state want to follow suit and start imposing quarantines? The resounding answer from the health officers at Lindquist’s meeting was No, according to the epidemiologist. It wasn’t exactly surprising. The scientific community has strongly urged against quarantines, concerned they would discourage health workers from volunteering in West Africa and deter the effort to stop the epidemic at its source.
So what is our state doing to prevent an ebola outbreak here?
Active monitoring If the DOH determines that someone is at risk of developing ebola, he or she will receive a visit from a local health official at least once a day during a 21-day monitoring period. The DOH has kept this monitoring relatively quiet, probably in part because it has not monitored that many people—under 20, according to Lindquist. He notes that he recently heard a health worker on the radio talk about coming back and holing himself up in a hunting cabin for three weeks. “I hate to tell you,” Lindquist says, “but I don’t think you are.”
Testing blood samples
On November 1, a DOH lab in Shoreline first tested a blood sample of someone (from Oregon) who was suspected of having ebola. The facility is one of 13 public-health labs around the country that are doing such tests, and the staff involved had to don protective clothing and take other stringent safety measures. “It went very smoothly,” Lindquist says. The test came back negative for ebola. E