Quarantined in the Time of Fear
In Albert Camus’ novel The Plague, the French town of Oran is quarantined when people start dying from bubonic plague. No one can leave the town; no one from outside can get in. Families are torn apart, lovers are separated. Mail delivery is stopped and only limited phone calls are allowed. It is less a novel about disease and more an allegorical study of what fear and isolation do to human beings.
Since many people are clamoring for more government intervention, perhaps the government should require that everyone of reading age get a copy of The Plague and learn from it. Fear changes everyone. It frays the edges of who people believe themselves to be and creates a sinister kind of chaos that slowly and inexorably destroys basic compassion and humanity.
Take a look at the photo of Kaci Hickox, quarantined for no legitimate reason. She tested negative for Ebola. She had no fever, no symptoms. Yet Chris Christie had no problem zipping her into a tent with no running water and, at first, no means of communicating with the outside world. Apparently, Christie’s latest conceit is that he has a de-facto medical degree. Perhaps he went to medical school with Andrew Cuomo, who is also pledging to quarantine all health workers returning from West Africa who have worked with Ebola patients, even if they themselves test negative for the disease. California has just jumped on the quarantine bandwagon.
The New England Journal of medicine has stated that this type of reaction “is not scientifically based, is unfair and unwise, and will impede essential efforts to stop these awful outbreaks of Ebola disease at their source, which is the only satisfactory goal.”
The awful outbreaks of Ebola, to be clear, are in West Africa. Thousands of people are dying horrible deaths. The latest figure is 14,000. We in America have had 4 cases. Two nurses recovered, one doctor is still being treated and only one person, Thomas Eric Duncan, has died. That is hardly an epidemic. However, we have a far more serious epidemic at the moment — fear.
Fear is a harsh prison. It isolates its victims, turns people against each other and eviscerates rational thought. It’s a dark place in which to live and once there, it takes herculean strength to leave and re-enter life as it once was. We may never have even one more case of Ebola in this country, but we may very well have a nation of people crippled by fear.