Dr. Jane Orient: Health Care Workers ‘Can’t Be Trusted to Stay Home Voluntarily’

By Monica Sanchez | October 27, 2014 | 2:56pm EDT

In an exclusive interview with MRCTV, Ebola expert Dr. Jane Orient responded to quarantined nurse Kaci Hickox's critical remarks of the mandatory quarantine policy implemented in New Jersey -- a policy which stipulates that all health care workers who return to the U.S. from Ebola-ravaged West Africa be held in isolation for 21 days.

In contrast with Hickox's sharp criticisms of the policy as "not evidence-based" and "really inhumane," Dr. Orient favored quarantine as a viable precautionary method.

"A lot of assumptions are made that it's not very contagious -- but we don't really have any proof for that. We don't really know at what point the person is going to become symptomatic."

Better safe than sorry? Quarantine one in the interest of many?

Dr. Orient, Executive Director for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), proposed a change in perspective:

"I think we need to ask about the rights of others. Assume the CDC is right and that this disease, unlike others, 'can't' be transmitted by an asymptomatic person. Suppose the first symptom is explosive vomiting in a restaurant? What about the servers, other patrons, and the owner?

"Other exposed health care workers, along with other people, have shown that they can't be trusted to stay home voluntarily."

The White House announced today that the CDC would be releasing new Ebola guidelines, likely due to news of nurse Hickox's public lawsuit alleging ill-treatment by the government and her pending early release.

When asked what the CDC might be altering in its response, Dr. Orient could not say what for certain, but suggested that the current guidelines may be too elaborate to follow:

"The last ones I looked at were very much more elaborate than the first ones. In fact, they're so elaborate that you wonder how hospitals are going to comply."

The most recent standards are hard to understand, have made it more difficult for health care workers to put on and take off safety equipment, and are draining on hospital resources, she said.

Reflecting on a possible solution, Dr. Orient discussed quarantining at home.

"I think quarantine at home may be adequate in most cases," she said. "I think it might come to that, if it does turn out that people who have been exposed are exposing others in public places."

As witnessed in New York and New Jersey, the possibility of exposure -- whether it be out on the street, in a restaurant, on a bus -- has tremendous impacts on businesses and places a heavy burden on the public health department to track down possible contacts, Dr. Orient noted.

"It is just so much easier and efficient to stop it at the beginning rather than say, 'Let's just see what happens.'"

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