Chris Christie, Ebola and the Lesson for Investors

The mandatory quarantine of nurse Kaci Hickox imposed by the New Jersey governor is a reminder of the importance of facts and judgment in smart investment decision-making.

Chris Christie Keynotes U.S. Chamber's 15th Annual Legal Reform Summit

Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, speaks during a Legal Reform Summit at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. Christie, the New Jersey governor who seems a likely addition to the 2016 presidential primary roster, has been traveling the country doing what he’s supposed to do as chairman of the Republican Governors Association: raising as much money and publicity as he can to help his party’s incumbents and candidates ahead of the Nov. 4 elections. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Chris Christie

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Call it Ebola-Gate. When late last month officials at Newark Liberty International Airport detained — and later quarantined — a Doctors Without Borders nurse who was returning to the U.S. after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, the incident unleashed a storm of criticism questioning the legality of New Jersey’s mandatory quarantine rule, as well as the tactics of the state’s governor, Chris Christie, who had imposed it.

“Coercive measures like mandatory quarantine of people exhibiting no symptoms of Ebola and when not medically necessary raise serious constitutional concerns about the state abusing its powers,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Using a forehead scanner, an airport worker had diagnosed the nurse, Kaci Hickox, with a fever, but by the time she was moved to an isolation tent at a nearby hospital her temperature had returned to normal. “My cheeks were flushed, I was upset at being held with no explanation,” Hickox explained in an article she wrote for the Dallas Morning News.

Although the 33-year-old Maine native tested negative for Ebola, her story went viral, with media reports detailing how she was being held against her will, without a flushing toilet, shower or television. The New Jersey governor had imposed the 21-day quarantine for all travelers arriving from West Africa who’d had contact with Ebola patients, after a New York City doctor tested positive for the disease. He never backed down, even after a nonsymptomatic Hickox was released a few days later. “We are not moving an inch,” Christie told the Today Show’s Matt Lauer. “Our policy hasn’t changed, and it will not change.”

Christie, of course, was not alone. Andrew Cuomo had authorized a similar policy in New York the very same day as the New Jersey governor, and several other states followed suit. Critics, including President Obama, are concerned that mandatory quarantines will deter health workers like Hickox from volunteering. They’re also worried that forcibly detaining people could set off a panic. “We don’t just react based on our fears. We react based on facts and judgment and making smart decisions,” Obama told reporters.

Investors may want to remember those words after the roller-coaster ride they experienced in October. U.S. equity markets fell nearly 10 percent midmonth on fears of a European economic slowdown, the end of quantitative easing and, yes, the spread of Ebola, only to recover all of those losses. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed.