New York Governor Mario Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced on Friday a mandatory quarantine policy for travelers from West Africa who have been exposed to the Ebola virus.
The announcement comes as the White House mulls imposing a quarantine on health workers who treated Ebola patients in West Africa and travel to the U.S.
Both governors are bucking the White House, which has resisted quarantines as a measure to stop the spread of Ebola in its tracks. Such a quarantine would almost certainly have applied to Dr. Craig Spencer, who contracted the virus treating patients in Africa.
Anyone considered “high-risk” for Ebola flying into New York or New Jersey will be quarantined for three weeks, the states’ governors announced Friday.
“A voluntary Ebola quarantine is not enough. This is too serious a public health situation,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said during a late afternoon press conference with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).
The federal government already stipulates that passengers arriving from Ebola-affected areas self-monitor their temperature every day for three weeks.
Under the new policy in the two states, all travelers from high-risk areas will be interviewed about any contact with Ebola patients. If they have been exposed to the virus, they will be quarantined, and possibly medically monitored, until the incubation period has ended.
“There is no more ‘voluntary quarantine’ in New Jersey because you can’t count on people to do it,” said Christie, a possible presidential contender in 2016. Cuomo agreed, adding that a voluntary quarantine is “almost an oxymoron to me.”
“This is not the time to take chances,” Cuomo said.
The announcement could preempt a move by the federal government to require quarantines for healthcare workers returning from countries with Ebola outbreaks. The White House said it is considering all options, but has not expressly supported a quarantine policy.
Lawmakers from both parties praised the idea at a House Oversight Committee hearing Friday. Members noted that the latest U.S. Ebola patient, doctor Craig Spencer, failed to self-quarantine as he developed Ebola symptoms.
The briefing by Cuomo and Christie, which was announced just minutes before the governors spoke, came shortly after New Jersey officials quarantined a woman who reportedly cared for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. She has not presented symptoms.
Under federal law, states are given wide leeway in how they decide to respond to public health threats like Ebola. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have pledged to support states with whatever procedures they put into place.
Christie slammed existing federal protocols, which he said are too lax.
“We are no longer relying on CDC standards,” Christie said.
Cuomo said both states had received a greenlight to “establish their own guidelines” for Ebola.
A triumph for common sense over political correctness.
Dr. Spencer arrived at JFK Airport on October 17 from Guinea. Between the time of his arrival, when he was screened for the disease, and when he entered the hospital on October 23, Spencer came into contact with hundreds of people, although it is believed that since he was not symptomatic until Thursday morning, no one was in any danger of becoming infected. His fiancee and two friends are currently being quarantined as a result of their close contact with him after he became sick.
But even the small chance that anyone he came in contact with would be infected before Thursday would have been eliminated because he declared at the airport upon his arrival that he had been treating Ebola patients. At that point, if the new rules had been in effect, he would have been escorted to a quarantine center and held for 21 days.
That’s what these precautions are all about. When you are dealing with a disease that features a 70% mortality rate, taking any chance or making any guess is ridiculous. It’s not like we’re trying to stop the spread of the flu. This is a major-league health crisis that demands the most stringent and serious actions by authorities. It’s not “panic” or “hysteria” to exercise common sense, rather than the forced casualness and political correctness of the administration’s attitude toward the disease.
Ebola may not be highly contagious in the classic sense of the term, but it sure looks like it doesn’t take much for someone to catch it. Those two nurses in Texas proved that. Given the circumstances, prudence demands that we err on the side of caution, rather than strike a pose that superficially gives citizens the impression of competence and confidence.