The 2014-2015 Ebola crisis was the largest and most serious such outbreak in history, resulting in more than 28,000 infections and over 11,000 deaths, the overwhelming majority in West Africa. American health care workers played an important role in the response, with U.S.-based relief organizations sending considerable staff and resources to West Africa.
But returning health care workers, who deserved to be celebrated as heroes, were sometimes treated as pariahs instead. Motivated by misinformation and unwarranted fear, public policy in the United States resulted in scientifically unjustified quarantines and other restrictions. This punitive response harmed the fight against Ebola and infringed on the constitutional rights of these self-sacrificing health care workers.
It’s time to learn from the mishandling of the U.S. Ebola epidemic that wasn’t, and ensure we respond to future health scares with smart policies based on science, rather than misinformation and political grandstanding. Punitive and scientifically baseless approaches to public health violate the law and make us less safe.