Wednesday, May 30, 2007

It's Just a Little Cough

Unless you've been living under a stone somewhere, you've likely heard that the Centers for Disease Control issued the first federal government-ordered quarantine in more than 40 years because of a man who took two international flights and travelled around Europe while infected with an "extensively drug-resistant" form of tuberculosis. Since I'm guessing that you're already familiar with the case, I'm not going to belabor the details here.

But there is a part of the story that speaks to the way many Americans go about things, and I think that it's the sort of thing that colors people's perception of the United States.

"I'm a very well-educated, successful, intelligent person," he told the [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]. "This is insane to me that I have an armed guard outside my door when I've cooperated with everything other than the whole solitary-confinement-in-Italy thing."
I don't think that it requires a degree in public policy studies to understand that the armed guard is there because this man has shown an unwillingness to comply with instructions that he considers unreasonable. And in this case, failure to comply could spread a really nasty strain of an already nasty disease. His inability or unwillingness to understand the simple cause-and-effect relationship between these things seems to be more and more common these days. The expectation that people should regard him as trustworthy, in the face of his previous actions, seems to be more than a little unrealistic.

On the other hand, the man had simply been "advised not to fly," rather than being told: "you'd bloody well better keep your ass away from other people until we get this sorted out." The CDC's unwillingness to be more forceful from the beginning allowed this guy to downplay the risks involved. While I can understand them not wanting to quarantine the guy right off the bat, they clearly left him enough wiggle room that he felt that he could travel.

Between indescisive instructions and an unwillingness to alter plans to make accomodations for risks posed to others, a number of people were needlessly put at risk. This is the sort of thing that makes people unwilling to work together to solve mutual problems.

No comments: