I'll have a wrap-up post in a day or two, but right now I'm decompressing from the road. To tide you over, here's a story that makes me realize how nice it was to be out of touch for ten days.
The Ebola quarantines and the great military divide
I generally try to avoid any topic about the president, because damn near everyone out there either hates the man reflexively, or sort of worships him. And so the comments turn into a disaster, and I have to keep monitoring, because some people simply cannot confine their comments to the issue at hand.
Today I am breaking that normal tradition because of all the answers to questions I’ve seen over the years, the president’s answer to an Ebola question the other day unquestionably strikes me as his worst. Some can argue the validity (politically or actually) of the “you didn’t build that” or the “you can keep your doctor” but for just straight up oddity, I give you the quote below.
But before we get to the quote, as a sort of framing of this, the backdrop is twofold. First, states are trying to quarantine doctors who treated Ebola patients. Some knucklehead decided that after treating victims in Africa, he’d just lie to the authorities:
The city’s first Ebola patient initially lied to authorities about his travels around the city following his return from treating disease victims in Africa, law-enforcement sources said.I literally have no position whatsoever on quarantines. I don’t know if they are needed, constitutional, fascist or ridiculous. I’m also not going to research it, because I suspect this topic de jure will be gone by the time I get back from my upcoming vacation. But, I also think that this guy, and the lady doctor in Maine (my home state) are being pretty selfish. You want me to be held aside, alone for 21 days? You’ll bring me food, I’ll have cable TV, and I can sleep as much as I want? Dude, sign me up.
Dr. Craig Spencer at first told officials that he isolated himself in his Harlem apartment — and didn’t admit he rode the subways, dined out and went bowling until cops looked at his MetroCard the sources said.
Second, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has decided to quarantine the troops when they get back from West Africa:
Sigh ... welcome home, Tim...A 21-day quarantine for all military personnel serving in Ebola stricken areas of West Africa was approved by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Wednesday.So there’s the meat and potatoes (an extra “e” for Dan Quayle) of it. Now the quote:
The quarantine was pushed for by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hagel said. Initially the measure will apply to all personnel leaving the West Africa area. But Hagel said the policy will be reviewed within 45 days.
The policy creates a separate set of rules for military members than what the White House has pushed for civilian health care workers. President Obama has argued that civilian volunteer health workers returning from aid trips to Africa should not be quarantined and the White House has urged states not to impose their own quarantine policies. Science, Obama has said, does not support the need for a quarantines.
Q Are you concerned, sir, that there might be some confusion between the quarantine rules used by the military and used by health care workers and by some states?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the military is a different situation, obviously, because they are, first of all, not treating patients. Second of all, they are not there voluntarily, it’s part of their mission that's been assigned to them by their commanders and ultimately by me, the Commander-in-Chief. So we don't expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians. They are already, by definition, if they're in the military, under more circumscribed conditions.There is so much in there it would take me a generation or two to unpack it all. The first sentence alone makes no sense logically. So the troops will not be treating patients, but they are going to be subject to more rigid restraints? That’s like saying a motorcycle is more dangerous than a Big Wheel, which is why you should always wear a helmet while riding a Big Wheel. Huh?
When we have volunteers who are taking time out from their families, from their loved ones and so forth, to go over there because they have a very particular expertise to tackle a very difficult job, we want to make sure that when they come back that we are prudent, that we are making sure that they are not at risk themselves or at risk of spreading the disease, but we don't want to do things that aren’t based on science and best practices. Because if we do, then we’re just putting another barrier on somebody who’s already doing really important work on our behalf. And that's not something that I think any of us should want to see happen.
The rest of the paragraph makes more sense I suppose. When you do join, you understand you have fewer rights. That much is obvious to anyone that has joined. But from a public health standpoint, it isn’t even the slightest bit relevant. If this whole policy deals with the threat of Ebola to every day Americans, how does the circumscribed nature of military service add to the discussion? Huh?
The first sentence of the second paragraph is so long I get lost reading it. Presumably it is referring to the health people (nurses and doctors) volunteering overseas. But again, how is this different than the people in the military? Military people (believe it or not) ALSO have families, also have loved ones, also have difficult jobs, and we should decide for them based on “science and best practices” as opposed to the random selection by a magic 8-ball or a gorilla who can also pick Super Bowl winners. Again, it doesn’t really differentiate which is what the question was about. So again, huh?
The penultimate sentence though is the one that really (judging by my emails) has people angered. Again the specific question dealt with the differing ways we are dealing with civilians and military. So this sentence, “somebody who’s already doing really important work on our behalf” directed ONLY at the doctors, to differentiate them from service-members seems at first blush to be a complete insult. It’s really hard to interpret that sentence differently when given the context of the question.
I don’t know, maybe they were just free-wheeling an answer on the spot, and it was less that articulate. Lord knows I’ve said some dumb things in responses to questions. (Just ask my wife.) But this whole thing just seems insulting to me, and I don’t have a position on quarantines in general. But to differentiate between doctors who in their benevolence are dealing specifically with Ebola victims, from service-members who put their lives on the line, and then somehow create a policy that weighs safety with the value of the service, and deciding it favors doctors doesn’t make sense to me.