Top New York officials held a press conference on Sunday night outlining new procedures for handling the Ebola virus in the state and city.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has battled criticism from experts since he and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) unveiled a mandatory 21-day quarantine for healthcare professionals returning from treating the disease in West Africa. The White House said such standards could backfire and discourage US aid workers from travelling to the epicentre of the outbreak.
Cuomo’s Sunday announcement appears to be a shift to that policy. US healthcare workers and others, who are returning to New York and had direct contact with Ebola victims, will instead simply be asked to stay in their homes for the three weeks.
“Over the past four years as governor, I’ve gone through floods, hurricanes, blizzards. I’m waiting for locusts; there were no locusts yet but I wouldn’t be shocked if they arrived. And my practice has been to always err on the side of caution,” Cuomo said.
“A healthcare professional who returns to this region who had exposure to infected people, or citizens who are returning … who had exposure to infected people, … will be asked to remain in their homes for a 21-day quarantine period.”
During those 21 days, Cuomo said the state’s health department will check on the returning US workers twice a day — unannounced — to monitor their conditions and transfer them to a hospital if necessary. Cuomo also said the government will provide financial assistance for those three weeks if their employer does not offer such compensation. He said people can visit the quarantined in their homes.
“It’s not like this is the toughest duty, these 21 days,” he said.
The first nurse who was put into forced quarantine in New Jersey slammed the “poorly planned” new policy as unnecessarily draconian because people who contract the virus are not contagious until after they become symptomatic.
Cuomo did not offer an opinion on Kaci Hickox, the nurse, saying reporters would “have to ask the Jersey officials.” Christie defended the quarantine on Sunday amid criticism from top health officials and from Hickox herself, saying it was “government’s job” to ensure public safety.
The White House reportedly pressured states that adopted the quarantine procedure over the weekend — New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Illinois — to reverse course. But Cuomo said he felt no such pressure.
Last week, New York City’s first Ebola patient, Dr. Craig Spencer, developed symptoms and was rushed to Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital shortly after. His fiancee and two friends were quarantined.
Both de Blasio and Cuomo have repeatedly sought to calm public fears since.
Additional reporting by Brett LoGiurato.
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