NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Obama administration has voiced concerns to Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo over their decision to mandate quarantines for travelers who had exposure to Ebola before returning to the area.
The administration said the policy is “not grounded in science,” but stopped short of formally asking the governors to change course.
EXTRA: More On Ebola From The CDC
On Friday, New York and New Jersey announced a mandated 21-day quarantine in a government-regulated facility for medical workers who had treated Ebola victims in West Africa. The move came following the first case of Ebola diagnosed in New York City on Thursday. Twenty-one days is the incubation period for Ebola.
A senior official with the administration said the policy could undermine efforts to stop Ebola by discouraging medical workers from traveling to West Africa all together.
The nation’s top infectious-disease expert also warned on Sunday that the quarantine mandate for medical workers was unnecessary and could discourage volunteers from going to the hot zone.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the rounds on five major morning talk shows to argue that policy should be guided by science — and that science says people with the virus are not contagious until symptoms appear. And even then, infection requires direct contact with bodily fluids.
Fauci said that close monitoring of medical workers for symptoms is sufficient, and warned that forcibly separating them from others, or quarantining them, for three weeks could cripple the fight against the outbreak in West Africa — an argument that humanitarian medical organizations have also made.
“If we don’t have our people volunteering to go over there, then you’re going to have other countries that are not going to do it and then the epidemic will continue to roar,” he said. Fauci said the best way to protect Americans is to stop the epidemic in Africa.
Amid growing pressure from the federal government, however, Gov. Cuomo announced on Sunday a scaled-back protocol for New York when it comes to handling people who return from West Africa who had direct contact with Ebola patients.
Cuomo said people who return to New York that fit the criteria will be asked to remain at home for the 21-day quarantine. Medical professionals will check the individual’s temperature twice a day during that time, the governor said.
Meanwhile, Kaci Hickox, the first nurse quarantined in New Jersey under the new policy, said in a telephone interview with CNN that her isolation at a hospital was “inhumane” and added: “We have to be very careful about letting politicians make health decisions.”
Christie defended quarantining as necessary to protect the public and predicted it “will become a national policy sooner rather than later.”
“I don’t believe when you’re dealing with something as serious as this that we can count on a voluntary system. This is government’s job. If anything else, the government job is to protect safety and health of our citizens,” said Christie. “And so, we’ve taken this action, and I absolutely have no second thoughts about it.”
Christie, traveling the country as head of the Republican Governors Association, said he was not worried that quarantining would discourage volunteers from going to West Africa.
Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday that Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told him states can legally set policies that are more stringent than the CDC’s.
“But I would expect that our governor and any governor doing this would be in close consultation and cooperation with CDC,” Schumer told WCBS 880’s Monica Miller.
“As a concept, I think that a quarantine can help prevent the spread, but you have to see the details before you can judge and make sure that it’s also being protective of health care workers and making sure they’re treated properly,” the senator added.
The original quarantine measures were announced after Dr. Craig Spencer returned to New York City from treating Ebola victims in Guinea for Doctors Without Borders and was admitted to Bellevue Hospital Center last Thursday to be treated for Ebola. In the week after his return, he rode the subway, went bowling and ate at a restaurant.
Hospital officials said on Sunday that he was experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms, but was responding well to a plasma treatment he was given.
Hickox, the quarantined nurse, said she had no symptoms at all and tested negative for Ebola in a preliminary evaluation.
“It’s just a slippery slope, not a sound public health decision,” she said of the quarantine policy. “I want to be treated with compassion and humanity, and don’t feel I’ve been treated that way.”
Hickox did come down with a fever hours after being quarantined. She wrote in an article for The Dallas Morning News that her fever was only detected on a forehead scanner because she was flustered after being held for hours with little information, food and water.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is on a trip to West Africa, said returning U.S. health care workers should be “treated like conquering heroes and not stigmatized for the tremendous work that they have done.”
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on Saturday said she, too, is concerned about the message the quarantine policy sends to health care workers.
“We have to look at every doctor, every nurse, every health care provider that volunteers their time to serve in these voluntary organizations as heroes,” she told 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten.
In other developments, Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered twice-daily monitoring for 21 days of anyone returning from the Ebola-stricken areas.
The World Health Organization said more than 10,000 people have been infected with Ebola in the outbreak that came to light last March, and nearly half of them have died, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Fauci appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” ABC’s “This Week,” NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CBS’ “Face the Nation” and CNN’s “State of the Union.” Christie was interviewed on Fox and Power spoke to NBC.
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