During the 2014 Ebola virus epidemic, physician named Dr. Craig Spencer, who had recently returned to New York from treating Ebola patients in Guinea, came down with the disease and was quarantined at Bellvue Hospital.
A news briefing by various officials, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, was held at Bellvue Hospital. At the briefing, Mayor de Blasio said that:
“[T]here is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed. Ebola is an extremely hard disease to contract. It is transmitted only through contact with an infected person’s blood or other bodily fluids – not through casual contact. New Yorkers who have not been exposed to an infected person’s bodily fluids are not at all at risk.”
Seconds later, the mayor then went on to say that Dr. Spencer “was taken to Bellevue by specially trained emergency medical service workers who followed all transport protocols. The patient is now in isolation.” This qualifier statement, which ran counter to the Mayor’s assurances of safety uttered seconds earlier, was hardly reassuring.
Contemporaneous with the Craig Spencer story, a nurse named Kaci Hickox was forcibly quarantined after her return flight from Sierra Leone, where she had used her nursing skills to treat Ebola patients, landed at Newark. Though she had tested negative for Ebola, her quarantine was in accordance with New Jersey’s hastily-cobbled Ebola quarantine policy. Following her three-day quarantine in New Jersey, Ms. Hickox returned home to Maine, where officials unsuccessfully sought to further quarantine her.
The Hickox case stands in sharp contradistinction to the Spencer case in that while Spencer’s fiancée was also quarantined at Bellvue, Maine made no apparent attempt to quarantine Hickox’s boyfriend with whom she lived (though the college he attended did).
What the Spencer and Hickox cases have in common is that they were treated by the relevant governmental authorities as political problems, and not as public health problems.
Fast-forward to the present coronavirus situation in Israel: A virus epidemic of even greater infectiousness and velocity has, from its onset, been handled all the more as a political football than as a public health problem by the Israeli government. From the outset, politicians have exuded the attitude that their political offices exempt them from seriously complying with the rules which they impose upon the populace at large. The Health Ministry, whose head honcho at the time operated (and continues to operate) in a blatantly shameless political fashion, allowed the political considerations to displace the public health considerations, resulting in an abject public relations failure.
The delays occasioned by the political processes have allowed the situation to deteriorate, so now, the requisite public health measures needed to prevent overload of the nation’s healthcare system have become more drastic and dire. Indeed, this posting is being written in the early morning hours of Monday 21 September 2020; by the time you read this the government may already have begun discussing tightening up the restrictions it imposed almost immediately before the Rosh HaShanah candles were lit last Friday evening.
But the government is now being handed the opportunity to salvage its battered credibility. The people who flouted regulations (and in doing so endangered those of us who have been compliant) by traveling to Rabbi Nachman’s grave in Uman will soon be returning to Israel.
The Start-Up Nation of Israel has the technology to detect and detain those who seek to depart at Ben-Gurion Airport who allegedly have unsettled debts of relatively small amounts, and extort payment as a condition of departure. Surely the same technologies can detect incoming travelers who were in Uman. If the government of Israel wishes to begin to regain the public trust, it must place all returnees from Uman in corona hotels, and keep them there for the entire quarantine period. Allowing them to self-quarantine at home will not cut it, because they have already contemptuously demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to abide by the regulations without 24/7 gun-barrel-to-the-head monitoring; giving even one of them a pass would defeat all potential for the government’s self-rehabilitation.
As for myself, my own credence in the government is now measured in nanometers above zero, but still can be restored to a healthy margin if only the government does right with the malefactors who will soon be returning from Uman. I know that many others share my perspective.