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California Mandates 21-Day Quarantine For Anyone Exposed To Ebola

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California has joined other states like New Jersey and New York in calling for a 21-day quarantine of anyone who has had contact with Ebola patients in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone.

The state's chief health officer issued an order today mandating that anyone who has both passed through Ebola-affected countries and has also come into contact with an Ebola patient be subject to a quarantine. But the state's public health director Ron Chapman says that the state wants to take a "flexible, case-by-case" approach. That means that not everyone under quarantine will be required to stay in isolation at home. Some lower risk individuals might be allowed to roam freely (no word on whether that may include bowling).

"Not everyone who has been to an Ebola affected area should be considered high risk," Dr. Chapman said, in a statement. "This order will allow local health officers to determine, for those coming into California, who is most at risk for developing this disease, and to contain any potential spread of infectious disease by responding to those risks appropriately."

The question of quarantines has been a thorny one that has some public health experts saying it's more about politics than health. The chance of getting Ebola from casual contact is pretty remote. Ebola isn't airborne, and patients aren't contagious until they start showing symptoms. So unless you're in the habit of coming into intimate contact with the blood, vomit or feces of sickly strangers, you're probably going to be okay.

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Ebola hysteria, however, seems to be much more contagious and a problem for health care workers or travelers to Ebola-affected countries. A child with no symptoms was banned from a Connecticut school after traveling to Nigeria. And "Doctors Without Borders" nurse Kaci Hickox spoke out against being quarantined in a tent in Newark after she returned home from assignment treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. She's currently fighting off an order in her home state to stay quarantined. She has argued that health care workers who fight the disease need to be treated with dignity and humanity upon their return from West African countries:

I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine.

There are worries that health care workers who know they will be forced into quarantine for the better part of a month or treated like pariahs at the end of their assignment might think twice about heading to West Africa to contain the disease.

How California will handle returning health care workers or travelers remains to be seen: so far there have been no reported or confirmed cases of Ebola in the state.

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