Meet the New Ebola Experts

President Obama to meet with ebola nurse. will shake hands with ebola nurse. will hug ebola nurse. will pat on head. good ebola nurse good

— Rich Lowtax Kyanka (@lowtax) October 27, 2014


On Friday, in a surprising move, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey imposed a mandatory quarantine on individuals arriving at two area airports who have had direct contact with those infected with Ebola, including health workers.

Among medical professionals who have been fighting Ebola in West Africa, the restrictions only intensified the debate. While a few of those interviewed said an overabundance of caution was welcome, the vast majority said that restrictions like those adopted by New York and New Jersey could cripple volunteers’ efforts at the front lines of the epidemic.

Of the diminishing ways to assert yourself as a tough, clear-minded politician, fed up with the bullshit and ready to Get Things Done

, enacting a mandatory Ebola quarantine for new arrivals from affected countries seems like an attractive choice. Fear of the disease combined with the impression that it is somehow a foreign pathogen, rightfully belonging to other people, means that any decisive plans with the word “Ebola” in them will quickly find public support. (1985: “A majority of Americans favor the quarantine of AIDS patients.”)

The only problem with this plan is that medical professionals are not sure it makes any sense at all.

Dr. Rick Sacra, who contracted Ebola in Liberia and was flown back to the United States to be treated in September, said he believed that the new rules in New Jersey and New York would reduce the number of people willing to volunteer their time to treat Ebola patients.

So a doctor, who also happens to be a former Ebola patient, publicly suggests to Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie that their tough-on-infection posturing might in reality do more harm than good. If we grant that the quarantine discussion is above all a PR battle, this still seems like it might be a problem. That would be a misreading:

Americans’ trust in the medical profession has plummeted in recent years, and lags well behind public attitudes toward doctors in many other countries, according to a new report…

Just 34 percent of U.S. adults polled in 2012 said they had “great confidence in the leaders of the medical profession,” down from 76 percent in 1966, according to the report.

This is slightly higher than America’s polled “Trust in Government,” but not by enough to matter.

It’s not about what you know, or what you’ve done. It’s about how much confidence you inspire in the people who are paying the least attention.