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Ebola, Quarantine, and the Law

The United States needs a much better plan to respond to public health emergencies.

Judged by the key measures of morbidity and mortality, the United States has been very fortunate in the Ebola outbreak so far. We have had a limited number of cases and only a few fatalities. As of this writing, all of the health care workers who became infected in the United States have recovered, and none of the other nonhealth care contacts of Ebola patients has become infected. Yet by almost any other measure, the response to Ebola in the United States has been a disaster. Among other things, there has been a wealth of misinformation, politicization of public health, public panic, and unnecessary quarantine. There is plenty of blame to go around. But one often overlooked factor that complicated the response to Ebola is American public health law.