China’s decision to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus outbreak by quarantining major cities in the province of Hubei is raising logistical, medical and ethical concerns. Some public health experts — including Lawrence Gostin, in a video interview with Changing America — make the case that massive quarantines could actually worsen the crisis. 

In theory, preventing people from traveling in and out of affected areas could isolate a viral outbreak. But the undertaking in China may be too massive — involving 45 million people at the latest count — and come too late. An estimated 5 million people had already left Hubei Province by the time the travel bans were put into place.  Others question the ability of China to police an estimated 56 million people in the quarantined area — people who are likely frightened and undoubtedly desperate to protect themselves and their families.

A quarantine of this magnitude has never been attempted before. In recent epidemics, infected individuals have been quarantined to their homes or in hospital wards. 

In the United States the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has launched into emergency response mode. It is screening passengers arriving from affected areas at international airports and providing assistance and information to travelers departing to Asia. The CDC quickly created a protocol to test for the virus with almost-instant results and is growing the culture in the lab in the hopes of creating a vaccine — although that may take months to develop.

For Gostin, educating people about the spread of the virus and preventative measures is crucial. Watch the video for his candid thoughts on the crisis response in China and the US.

Published on Jan 28, 2020