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Ebola reaction seems like a solution in search of a problem

Ebola reaction seems like a solution in search of a problem

Mitch Coffman
November 8, 2014
November 8, 2014

Welcome to Ebola 2014, where as Frank Sinatra once observed, “Fear is the enemy of logic.”

Now that you’ve had to a chance to watch Maine, New Jersey and New York quarantine people against their will in reaction to Ebola, you may wonder if such a thing can happen here. The answer is it can.

Idaho Code 56-1003(7) gives the director of the state Department of Health and Welfare broad powers to restrict people’s movements, much like we’ve seen happen in other states. The law says the director “shall have the power to impose and enforce orders of isolation and quarantine to protect the public from the spread of infectious or communicable diseases or from contamination from chemical or biological agents, whether naturally occurring or propagated by criminal or terrorist act.”

The details surrounding how quarantines are to take place are left to the board that oversees the Department of Health and Welfare.

Violations of the quarantine are considered a misdemeanor under the statute. The law says the director’s order can be reviewed by a judge: “The court may affirm, reverse or modify the order and shall affirm the order if it appears by a preponderance of the evidence that the order is reasonably necessary to protect the public from a substantial and immediate danger of the spread of an infectious or communicable disease or from contamination by a chemical or biological agent.”

The controversy surrounding Ebola and quarantines is producing some important conversations about the power of the state versus the rights people have to move freely. The issue has also exposed unintended consequences that come when the government threatens to leave health care workers locked up once they return from helping provide medical care to others.

Idaho officials have significant power to quarantine citizens in the event of a health concern. It would seem only reasonable that those same officials explain how they might use that power.

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