In the past few days, we have seen an excellent example of Governor Paul LePage’s strong leadership in action as he’s handled the Ebola situation (no, it’s not a crisis) perfectly.
At first, I was completely sympathetic with nurse Kaci Hickox. Her decision to go to West Africa and treat Ebola patients was not only above and beyond the call of duty, but heroic. I’m proud to have a Mainer willing to sacrifice to help in such a challenging situation. I completely understand her desire to not be locked up in a tent in New Jersey for three weeks, but to be allowed to return home.
Then, once she made it back to Maine, and it became clear that she wasn’t going to abide by a quarantine here either, my sympathy for her diminished. Had it been me, I would have abided by the quarantine while at the same time making it clear that I thought it was medically unnecessary.
At the same time, it’s not entirely clear that the quarantine is unnecessary. While the White House claimed that such quarantines weren’t needed, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel decided to impose a similar measure on all troops returning from service in West Africa. He decided that, for the safety of everyone, he would go above and beyond the CDC guidelines.
This is a reasonable decision. It’s not completely ignoring medical science, as several of Governor LePage’s partisan critics have contended. There is quite a bit of debate in the medical community about whether a quarantine is necessary, but imposing it is operating on the “better safe than sorry” principle, not completely out of ignorance.
Moreover, Governor LePage went about it the right way. Rather than simply enforcing the quarantine on Hickox, he sought a court order to limit her travel in other ways and require monitoring of her health, amongst other measures. This is extremely uncommon: Usually in public health situations like this, governments simply act under the general police power. LePage not only didn’t do that, he backed down from the initial quarantine requirement.
Then, when the court rejected the state’s attempts to restrict her travel, Governor LePage reacted well, saying he would abide by the court order even though he disagreed with it. The court did say that Hickox would have to coordinate her travels with state health officials and submit to monitoring, to which she agreed.
This seems like a reasonable compromise.
Even though it only involved one individual, this was a complex issue. Public health situations are, especially ones where the law is unclear and officials have to react quickly. However, Governor LePage handled the situation perfectly: the Maine CDC discussed the situation with Hickox, and when those negotiations broke down, they went to court rather than simply acting. When the court didn’t agree with them, both sides agreed to work within the new court orders.
This is the kind of leadership we’ve come to expect from Governor LePage over the past four years. Hopefully on Tuesday Mainers will decide to let him continue to lead our state.