NHCLU’s Statement on New Hampshire’s Ebola Monitoring Protocols
October 29, 2014 / The following statement is from Devon Chaffee, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union (NHCLU).
Ebola is a public health issue and the government’s response should be driven by science and sound medical principles. We must treat our medical workers with compassion and respect. Medical workers deciding whether to put their lives at risk to contain this epidemic also deserve to know what to expect upon their return to the Granite State.
The Ebola “monitoring protocols” issued yesterday by Governor Maggie Hassan require greater transparency and clarification.
The Governor’s statement uses the term “monitoring protocols” not “quarantine,” but indicates that anyone caring for Ebola patients in an “Ebola-affected country” will be required to stay in their home for 21 days following their return. Public statements by New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services officials suggest that the Department will seek a court order if any individual refuses to follow the quarantine protocol, but other media coverage suggests that the home quarantine might not be mandatory.
If New Hampshire forcibly restricts individuals exhibiting no symptoms of Ebola to their home, it is a mandatory “quarantine” as defined by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health experts—including the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine—say that such quarantines will deter genuinely sick people from seeking treatment and discourage caregivers and first responders from helping sick patients who need their assistance. Health experts assert that the best way to prevent Ebola from entering the United States is to control it at its source in Africa, and that mandatory quarantines might undermine such efforts by discouraging health workers from controlling and treating patients in Ebola stricken countries. Mandatory quarantine of people exhibiting no symptoms of Ebola also raises serious constitutional concerns.
Governor Hassan must provide clearer information to the public about the new policy, including whether the home quarantine is mandatory or voluntary and how the state came to the conclusion that the quarantine of our healthcare workers was medically necessary. Access to this information is imperative for the public to determine whether the policy is medically necessary and no more restrictive than it needs to be.
The NHCLU recognizes that when a threat to public health becomes serious enough, New Hampshire law allows certain infringements on people’s individual rights, but those infringements should be based on medical necessity, not fear or politics.
The NHCLU filed a records request today with the Office of the Governor and the Department of Health and Human Services seeking the details of policies pertaining to the new “monitoring protocols” for the Ebola virus.