White House questions Ebola quarantines

New York – The White House has told states that
have imposed mandatory quarantines for some
travellers from Ebola-hit West Africa that the
policy could impede the fight against the disease,
while the first health worker isolated under the
rules planned to sue.
Kaci Hickox, a nurse placed in 21-day quarantine
in a New Jersey hospital after returning from
treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, will
contest her quarantine in court, her attorney said
on Sunday, arguing the order violates her
constitutional rights.
New Jersey, New York and Illinois are imposing
quarantines on anyone arriving with a high risk of
having contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia
and Guinea, where the epidemic has killed nearly
5 000 people.

The White House voiced its concern to the
governors of New York and New Jersey about the
potential impact of quarantine orders, a senior
administration official said.
“We have let the governors of New York, New
Jersey, and other states know that we have
concerns with the unintended consequences of
policies not grounded in science may have on
efforts to combat Ebola at its source in West
Africa”, the Obama administration official said in a
statement.
Medical professionals note that Ebola is extremely
difficult to catch. It is spread through direct
contact with bodily fluids from an infected person
and is not transmitted by people who are not
showing symptoms.
At a late evening news conference on Sunday,
New York governor Andrew Cuomo struck a more
conciliatory tone about the quarantine policy than
he had when he first announced it on Friday with
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Responding to concerns that mandatory
quarantines would keep doctors and nurses away
from the stricken region of West Africa, he said
New York wanted to encourage medical workers
to go and fight against disease while protecting
public safety at home.
New rules
Healthcare workers and travellers who had
exposure to people infected with Ebola and live in
New York can stay in their homes for the 21-day
quarantine, checked upon twice daily by
healthcare professionals, Cuomo said.
The state would provide financial assistance if
needed, he added.
“These people are extraordinary for their valour
and their courage and their compassion”, Cuomo
said. “Anything we can do to encourage it, we
want to do.”
New York was making no change in its policy
from what was announced on Friday, he added.
The New Jersey governor’s office said late on
Sunday it too had not changed the policy
announced on Friday.
A New Jersey resident who had contact with
someone with Ebola would be quarantined at
home, it said. Non-residents would be
transported to their homes if feasible or
quarantined in New Jersey.

Christie, however, sounded less placating than
Cuomo in remarks the New Jersey governor made
about the quarantined nurse, who publicly
slammed the hours of questioning she underwent
at Newark Liberty International Airport and her
transfer to a hospital isolation tent.
“I understand that this has made this woman
uncomfortable, and I’m sorry that she’s
uncomfortable,” Christie said to reporters. “The
fact is I have the people in New Jersey as my
first and foremost responsibility to protect.”
Angry over her confinement, Hickox, a Texas
native, planned to file a federal lawsuit this week,
her attorney said.
She remains asymptomatic and has not tested
positive for Ebola, said her attorney, Norman
Siegel, a prominent civil liberties lawyer.
The new rules were imposed a day after a New
York doctor, Craig Spencer, was diagnosed with
Ebola after he returned from treating patients in
Guinea.
Spencer moved freely around the city before he
had symptoms that would make him contagious.
Now hospitalized in isolation, he appeared slightly
improved but remained in serious but stable
condition on Sunday, health officials said.
Spencer and Hickox worked with Doctors without
Borders, a charity that is a leading part of
international efforts to fight the epidemic.
Only four people have been diagnosed with Ebola
in the United States. The first diagnosis on US
soil, a Liberian visitor to Texas in September who
has died, was riddled with missteps. Two nurses
who treated the Liberian man contracted the
disease but have recovered.

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