Do quarantines work?

The world is in the midst of an outbreak from the Wuhan region. Here's a closer look at quarantines as a precautionary method.

Empty streets, masked residents, transportation at a standstill and temperature scans. This is life now for Wuhan residents under quarantine

The U.S., Australia, France and the U.K. have all announced plans to quarantine their citizens returning from the Wuhan region. In 2014, during the Ebola epidemic, an attempt to cordon off West Point, a neighborhood of Liberia’s capital, resulted in clashes and evasions.

Before enforcing quarantine, there are other options

“You can encourage people to voluntarily cancel social gatherings, for example, you can have people close schools, you could have them cancel sporting events, cancel grades. You can you can ask people not to travel if they if they don't, if they don't and if it's not essential that they travel. There are lots of things you can do short of actually issuing a quarantine order. The size of the quarantine going on in China right now is basically unprecedented. This is something that is bigger than many countries population, and it is something that is really unusual to see happening. You want to only use it when it's a last resort because of all the negative repercussions, because isolating geographic areas like that under a quarantine can really make things very difficult in an outbreak zone, because not only do you make it hard for people to leave, you also make it hard to get resources in”, says Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician.

Infectious diseases spread from person to person

According to the CDC, the word quarantine emerged during the 14th century Black Death plague epidemic. It stems from the Italian from the Italian ‘quaranta giorni’ meaning ‘forty days’. In 2018, the top White House official responsible for leading the U.S. response in the case of a deadly pandemic left the Trump administration. The position still has not been filled. The United States’ quarantinable diseases are listed in an Executive Order of the President. They include cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow fever, viral hemorrhagic fevers and severe acute respiratory syndromes.