White House questions Ebola quarantines

2014-10-27 07:35
The White House. (Susan Walsh, AP)

The White House. (Susan Walsh, AP)

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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.

Read more on:    us  |  liberia  |  ebola

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