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Should the U.S. Issue an Ebola Travel Ban?

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President Barack Obama does not have the desire to institute a travel ban nor implement additional measures to fight the spread of Ebola in the U.S., but he has the legal authority.

Other elected officials who have taken executive action to fight the spread did so with image1disputed legality and ultimately ended a 21-day quarantine of a New Jersey nurse. [1]

Thus the law has created a political paradigm where Democrats choose not to use their power to expand actions to fight the spread while Republicans, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, try to take further action but appear to lack the ability to do so. [2] Under the Public Health Services Act the United States government has authority to quarantine citizens and states have the right to quarantine citizens under the Tenth Amendment, which gives states powers not expressly given to the federal government. [3]

To date in the United States, there have been two travel-related cases of Ebola and two cases of healthcare workers infected from treating patients. [4] According to the CDC, they have taken increased measures to help prevent any further cases of Ebola from entering into the country. [5] These measures are comprised primarily of enhanced entry screenings of people who have traveled from or through Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. [6] Currently, the screenings are being done at New York’s John. F. Kennedy, Washington’s Dulles, New Jersey’s Newark, Chicago’s O’Hare, and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airports. [7]

These measures have been criticized as being insufficient and that additional steps should be taken. [8] In response to the outbreak in West Africa, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey had issued a mandatory twenty-one day quarantine of health care workers returning from Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea. [9] As a result, he received criticism for forcibly quarantining a nurse, Kaci Hickox, who had just returned from treating patients in Sierra Leone. [10] However, due to protest from Hickox’s lawyer, and pressure from the Obama administration and officials from the CDC, Hickox was allowed to leave the quarantine. [11]

This Ebola outbreak is the largest in history, primarily affecting several West African countries. [12] Originally starting in Guinea, the outbreak then spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Senegal. [13] The first outbreak of Ebola occurred in 1976, originally known as Ebola Hemorrhagic fever, it is severe and can be fatal to humans. [14]

House Speaker John Boehner has voiced the opinion that President Obama should issue a temporary travel ban. [15] According to a survey conducted by NBC of more than 1,000 people, 55 percent were for issuing a travel ban. [16]

Some countries have decided to implement a travel ban, including the Island of St. Lucia, which issued a ban barring travelers from the three West African countries overwhelmed by the outbreak. [17]

Under 50 USCS §1701, President Barack Obama has the authority to issue a travel ban due to an unusual and extraordinary threat but to do that, President Obama would have to declare Ebola a national emergency that he considered a threat to our national security. [18]

In response to the request for a travel ban, the CDC has stated the  they do “not recommend stopping travel from countries with Ebola outbreaks. Travel restrictions balance the public health risk to others, the rights of individuals, and the impact of the recommendations on the welfare of the countries with Ebola outbreaks. They are based on the least restrictive means necessary to protect the public’s health. The key to controlling this epidemic is to focus on stopping the spread at its source, and international humanitarian assistance must continue.” [19]

Although a travel ban may appear to be a rational choice, Dr. Tom Freiden, director of the CDC, says it won’t work.

“Isolating countries won’t keep Ebola contained and away from American shores,” Frieden said. “Paradoxically, it will increase the risk that Ebola will spread in those countries and to other countries, and that we will have more patients who develop Ebola in the US. People will move between countries, even when governments restrict travel and trade. And that kind of travel becomes almost impossible to track.” [20]

President Obama has come out in support of the CDC.

“Trying to seal off an entire region of the world – if that were even possible – could actually make the situation worse,” he said. [21]

Presently, although Ebola is a serious virus and the current outbreak represents the largest in history, issuing a travel ban could actually threaten national security.

President Obama has stated that the current cases in the United States do not constitute a national emergency when he said “[w]hat we’re seeing now is not an ‘outbreak’ or an ‘epidemic’ of Ebola in America.” [22]

Although the Ebola outbreak is the largest in history, the current cases in the United States do not satisfy implementing a travel ban. In light of the recent cases, monitoring and tracking the flow of travel from West Africa will have a higher rate of success in preventing the outbreak from spreading.

Photo Courtesy of Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr. (License Agreement)

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