Nurse Kaci Hickox, from the state of Maine, has been in a legal battle with the state over the need for her to undergo medical isolation known as quarantine for 21 days following her return from working with Ebola virus patients in West Africa. Though she claims she shows no signs of the virus, the state had asked that she be required to fulfill her quarantine through November 10th. However, Judge Charles LaVerdiere rejected this demand and freed her from the legalities of quarantine. She is no longer required to avoid public areas (Nick Bryant, “Maine ‘Thinking Locally’ on Ebola Nurse Quarantine,” the BBC at BBC.com, October 31, 2014).
The issue of quarantine has surfaced frequently during the recent media coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Another doctor who also went to West Africa to work with Ebola patients lied about his self-monitored quarantine and was in fact in contact with the public of New York City many times (Jamie Schram and Bruce Golding, “Ebola Doctor ‘Lied’ About NYC Travels,” The New York Post at NYPost.com, October 29, 2014).
Some news sources and, indeed, some medical professionals have portrayed quarantine as antiquated and hurtful to the mental state of those who must undergo it. It’s hard to find the truth amongst all the hype. Where does the concept of quarantine, defined by isolating an individual or group of people from the larger society for a specific period of time until illness has developed and abated or until no threat of illness is present, originate?
You might be surprised to know that it comes directly from God’s word in the Bible. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers God gave to the ancient Israelites an enlightened approach to health and hygiene that included burying human waste and burning clothes or other items that had come into contact with infection, among other measures that prevent disease (Leviticus 13, 14, 15). He also gave Israel the concept of quarantine during times of illness or “uncleanness” as it is referred to in the Bible (Numbers 19, and Leviticus 13:45-46 Leviticus 13:45-46  And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bore, and he shall put a covering on his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean.
 All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.
American King James Version×). This put the needs of the many above the needs of the few and prevented spread of disease, but it also allowed those that were ill to recover away from the rest of society.
When a cure for disease isn’t available, such as in the case of Ebola at the present, then the rules of quarantine serve to protect those who are ill and the greater number who are not. Rather than an antiquated procedure, it’s important to look at quarantine as one of the gifts of understanding that God gave to ancient Israel and through them, to the rest of the world.