Uncertainty of Ebola Concerns Princeton Citizens, Prompts Policies

The Ebola outbreak has resulted in global panic, making citizens question the safety of everything from public transportation to crowded events. Recent developments have brought the crisis directly to Princeton.

On October 1st, NBC cameraman Alexander Mukpo contracted Ebola while cleaning a car that had transported dead Ebola victims in Liberia. Ten days later he tested positive for the virus, at which point the NBC news team agreed to a voluntary twenty-one day quarantine – the maximum incubation period for the virus – upon their arrival in the United States. Mukpo recovered fully in two and a half weeks, but effects of the quarantine infractions of his crew members linger.

Princeton resident Dr. Nancy Snyderman was a member of the quarantined NBC crew. The Thursday after the isolation period began, Snyderman violated the quarantine by ordering takeout soup from The Peasant Grill, a small deli in Hopwell, New Jersey, stirring unrest in the Princeton community. Residents voiced concern at Snyderman’s dismissiveness in her responses to requests for specifics about her quarantine violation. She stated only that “members of the crew” had violated the quarantine. She did not elaborate on which members, where they went, or how often they left their houses. Her vague answers led to a flurry of comments on her Facebook wall and much speculation about her credibility even though Dr. Snyderman ranked 30th on Reader’s Digest “Most Trusted People in America” in 2012.

Concerned citizens hung posters on kiosks in downtown Princeton, listing Snyderman’s home address, a physical description, the names of her children, and contact information for the local police and the New Jersey Health Department. The posters stated that she was a risk to public health if she did not honor the quarantine. Town administrator Bob Bruschi dismissed the posters as “a freedom of speech issue,” adding, “we will not spend any time or tax dollars taking them down unless they are defacing public property.” Bruschi said administrators were more concerned with the updates from the health department and police department monitoring her compliance. A nurse checked her temperature and other vitals daily for Ebola-like symptoms, and police conducted frequent drive-bys in her neighborhood. Bruschi reassured the public that, “we have both the health department and the police department monitoring the matter and it is under control”.

Chief Sutter stated that the role of the team monitoring the situation in Snyderman’s neighborhood was, “merely to monitor the area because there was a lot of national and world attention on the issues there, so we wanted to give it a little more patrol coverage than normal. We conducted drive-bys more frequently”.

On October 24th, only two day after Snyderman’s release, Kaci Hickox was detained in Newark Airport and began fighting Governor Chris Christie’s new quarantine policies for those returning from Ebola relief efforts in West Africa. Gov. Christie mandated that all airport travelers and health care relief workers returning from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone be detained and have their symptoms monitored until they are deemed safe for release.

The Governor’s policy has sparked controversy regarding how conservatively those returning from health care relief work should be monitored and quarantined. At first, many condemned Christie for his insensitivity towards the heroes of Ebola and his overreaction to generic Ebola-like symptoms. As the most recent death of Dr. Martin Salia clearly demonstrates, there is much that we still do not know about Ebola. Salia had been in Sierra Leone and tested negative for Ebola twice despite displaying Ebola-like symptoms. Four days later, Salia was tested for a third time and the results came back positive. By the time he arrived in Nashville, Salia’s kidneys had failed and his condition was critical. Now, all who hugged and congratulated Salia on his two negative tests are monitoring themselves for symptoms.

Chris Christie stated that he expects the rest of the country to come around to his point of view. Two things are certain: Ebola kills quickly and transmits as soon as symptoms occur. Had Dr. Salia been monitored more attentively, it is more likely he would have received more proactive health care and maybe survived. Perhaps other states will adopt similar conservative policies in light of Salia’s tragic and potentially preventable death.

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