Though the White House danced around direct questions of Ebola confinement today, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration thinks New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie acted unfairly by quarantining a nurse returning from Sierra Leone.
Kaci Hickox of Maine registered a temperature with a forehead scanner after landing in New Jersey, and told CNN over the weekend that it was probably because she was flushed. She added that she didn’t have a temperature when healthcare workers later used an oral thermometer.
Hickox complained that her “basic human rights have been violated” and called Christie’s quarantine “appalling.”
“To put me through this emotional and physical stress is completely unacceptable,” she told CNN.
Earnest said he’d not spoken about the situation with President Obama, who met today with his Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee, “so I’m unaware of what his personal reaction is.”
“I think that the reaction that many people across the country had — and I think it was shared by at least some people here in the White House — is that the service of somebody like Kaci Hickox is something that we should honor and respect,” Earnest said.
“Again, she traveled to a West African country that is dealing with the outbreak of a contagious, deadly disease. She didn’t travel over there because she was getting a big paycheck. Presumably, she’s not going to be inducted into the nurses’ hall of fame for it.”
Earnest continued that Hickox, who will be allowed to serve the rest of her quarantine period at home, volunteered in Sierra Leone “out of concern for her common man, and she saw an opportunity to serve people that are clearly not as fortunate as we are to have a modern medical infrastructure.”
“And, ultimately, because of her hard work we are going to stop this disease in its tracks in West Africa, and that is the only way that we can eliminate the risk that this disease poses to the American people,” he added. “So her service and commitment to this cause is something that should be honored and respected, and I don’t think we do that by making her live in a tent for two or three days.”
When pressed on whether the White House disagrees with that confinement, Earnest replied, “The fact is, it is the state and local authorities have the authority to make these kinds of decisions about how to implement quarantine policies.”
“What we hope and what we think has been true in the vast majority of circumstances, is that these kinds of policy decisions should be driven by science. And there is a body of scientific work out there that helps us understand exactly what kind of risk we face,” he said.
“And the only way that we can drive that risk to zero is to stop this outbreak in its tracks in West Africa. And the only way that we’re gonna be able to stop this outbreak is if there are brave individuals like Kaci Hickox who are willing to put themselves at greater risk to try to stop this outbreak because it’s in the best interest of the American people. So again, her service and commitment is something that we should celebrate.”
Asked where Ebola czar Ron Klain has been in all of this, Earnest said the state of New Jersey consulting with the CDC to release Hickox is “evidence that the ongoing coordination between the Obama administration and state and local officials continues successfully in this case.”
Earnest wouldn’t answer whether or not the administration knew that New York, New Jersey and Illinois had decided to implement quarantine procedures for “at-risk” travelers returning from the Ebola hot zone.
“I’m not going to be in a position to detail all of the phone calls, but administration officials had at a variety of agencies, including HHS, CDC, and the White House, have been in regular touch with state and local officials in New York and New Jersey elsewhere as they deal with this Ebola situation,” he said.
“…We should be mindful of not placing undue burdens, or in some cases, even outright disrespecting healthcare workers who are making a commitment to go and serve those who are less fortunate in West Africa to try to stop this outbreak at the source.”