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Obama Seeking to Reverse NY, NJ's Ebola Quarantine Orders

By    |   Sunday, 26 Oct 2014 03:19 PM

The White House is pressuring the governors of New York and New Jersey to reverse their orders imposing a quarantine on all medical workers returning from West Africa who had contacts with Ebola patients, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made the decisions on Friday after a doctor who treated patients in Guinea came back to New York infected.

Quoting an unnamed administration official, the paper said "top administration officials have been speaking with Mr. Cuomo daily and have also been in touch with Mr. Christie, trying to get them to rescind the order."

The administration also released additional comments Reuters later Sunday.

"We have let the governors of New York, New Jersey, and others 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.

"We have also let these states know that we are working on new guidelines for returning healthcare workers that will protect the American people against imported cases, while, at the same time, enabling us to continue to tackle this epidemic in West Africa," the official added.

The White House will consult further with states as the guidelines are developed, the official said, "and we expect to have more to say on this in the coming days."  

In the meantime, Illinois and Florida said they were also imposing similar steps.

"A senior administration official, who did not want to be identified in order to discuss private conversations with state officials on the issue, called the decision by the governors 'uncoordinated, very hurried, an immediate reaction to the New York City case that doesn't comport with science'," the New York Times reported earlier Sunday.

The Obama administration says the new measures could have unintended consequences.

The gulf between politicians and scientists over Ebola widened on Sunday as the nation's top infectious-disease expert warned that the mandatory, 21-day quarantining of medical workers returning from West Africa is unnecessary and could discourage volunteers from traveling to the danger zone.

"The best way to protect us is to stop the epidemic in Africa, and we need those health care workers, so we do not want to put them in a position where it makes it very, very uncomfortable for them to even volunteer to go," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Meanwhile, Kaci Hickox, the first nurse forcibly quarantined in New Jersey under the state's new policy, said in a telephone interview with CNN that her isolation at a hospital was "inhumane," adding: "We have to be very careful about letting politicians make health decisions."

Christie on Sunday 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, who is expected to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. "And so, we've taken this action, and I absolutely have no second thoughts about it."

Fauci made the rounds on five major Sunday morning talk shows to argue that policy should be driven 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.

He 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.

Christie, traveling the country as head of the Republican Governors Association, said he was not worried that quarantining would discourage volunteers.

Neither he nor Cuomo provided details on what would happen to those who refused to cooperate with the quarantines. But Cuomo, who is up for re-election next week, said the order is legally enforceable, and expressed confidence that medical professionals would go along.

"It's highly unlikely that a doctor who is coming back, who just volunteered, who may be infected, wouldn't cooperate with the quarantine. I mean, it is exactly antithetical to what the doctor does, right?" Cuomo said on a radio talk show.

The 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 did not immediately update his condition Sunday but said a day earlier that he was experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms and "entering the next phase of his illness."

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."

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."

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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WASHINGTON, Oct 26 (Reuters) - The White House is pressuring the governors of New York and New Jersey to reverse their orders imposing a quarantine on all medical workers returning from West Africa who had contacts with Ebola patients, the New York Times reported on...
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2014-19-26
Sunday, 26 Oct 2014 03:19 PM
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