Ebola, the Ambassador, and the Nurse

Samantha Power and Kaci Hickox show the diverging approaches to quarantine on the federal and state levels.

On Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations, would undergo active monitoring for Ebola upon her return from West Africa, where she has been dispatched on a fact-finding mission.

When she arrives, Power will become the latest face of federal policy with regard to Ebola (whatever it may be by then). As of now, that seems to mean that she will check in regularly with doctors and otherwise go about her business unless she (or her doctors) detect symptoms of the virus. That policy could change as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updates its guidelines, but it shouldn't shift much.

One could be forgiven for sensing an imbalance between Power's plan to not self-quarantine and the case of Kaci Hickox, a nurse who was detained and forced into a makeshift quarantine tent behind a New Jersey hospital after returning from West Africa, despite having twice tested negative for Ebola. (The smoking gun was an airport forehead scanner, which registered her with a 101 temperature, though an oral reading later registered her as normal.)

On Monday, Hickox, who had been working with Doctors Without Borders, was released from the hospital and privately flown to Maine, where she is a resident, but not before she became the lightning rod for criticism for the four states that adopted the policy of automatically quarantining healthcare workers returning from West Africa. Hickox called her treatment "inhumane," which dovetails with comments made by Power, who said that healthcare workers returning from West Africa should be treated like "conquering heroes" instead of being stigmatized.

In its latest guidelines issued Monday afternoon, the CDC sided with Power over the states. It said nothing about mandatory federal quarantines, and it recommended that workers at "high risk" for infection–those who get stuck with a needle, for example, voluntarily self-quarantine at home. For most others, daily monitoring without isolation is sufficient.