New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office on Sunday night defended the governor’s decision to impose a mandatory 21-day quarantine on people returning from Ebola-stricken areas of West Africa, even as his counterpart in New York dramatically changed his tone on the quarantines.
But early Monday morning, the New Jersey Department of Health said it would discharge a returning nurse who has been quarantined in a Newark hospital since Friday and publicly spoken out against Christie.
“After consulting with her, she has requested transport to Maine, and that transport will be arranged via a private carrier not via mass transit or commercial aircraft,” the health department said of the nurse, Kaci Hickox. “She will remain subject to New Jersey’s mandatory quarantine order while in New Jersey. Health officials in Maine have been notified of her arrangements and will make a determination under their own laws on her treatment when she arrives.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Christie had come under intense criticism after unveiling on Friday the quarantine protocol for anyone returning from West Africa who had contact with Ebola victims or patients. The Obama administration warned it could discourage health workers from travelling to combat the disease at its epicentre.
Cuomo’s tone during a Sunday night news conference was perceived as a shift in policy, as he said healthcare workers returning to the US from Africa could spend those quarantines in their homes and have visitors. State and federal health officials will twice a day arrive at their homes to check that the quarantined are there and to see if they have any symptoms. Cuomo also said the state would reimburse workers if their jobs refused to do so while they are quarantined.
In a statement Sunday night after Cuomo’s news conference with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said New Jersey was “not changing its quarantine protocol.” He also clarified that New Jersey residents may spend the 21-day period at their homes if they were New Jersey residents.
“New Jersey is not changing its quarantine protocol,” Roberts said. “The protocol is clear that a New Jersey resident with no symptoms, but who has come into contact with someone with Ebola, such as a healthcare provider, would be subject to a mandatory quarantine order and quarantined at home. Non-residents would be transported to their homes if feasible and, if not, quarantined in New Jersey.”
It is in New Jersey where the policy has come under the most intense criticism, as Hickox, the first worker who was subject to the quarantine protocol, slammed it as harsh and draconian. Hickox and top federal health officials have harshly criticised Christie in public.
The New Jersey department of health said Hickox would continue to be subject to New Jersey’s mandatory quarantine. It also pointedly rebutted some of Hickox’s criticism of her treatment, which she said “violated” her “basic human rights.”
“While in isolation, every effort was made to insure that she remained comfortable with access to a computer, cell phone, reading material and nourishment of choice,” the department said.
Christie defended the quarantine multiple times on Sunday amid the criticism, saying it was “government’s job” to ensure public safety.
He pointed to experience with an NBC News crew that broke a voluntary self-quarantine after one of its cameramen came down with the virus.
“I have great respect for Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, but what he’s counting on is a voluntary system with folks who may or may not comply,” Christie said. “We had this situation in New Jersey, Chris, as you know with the NBC News crew that said they were going to self-quarantine and then two days later they were out picking up takeout food in Princeton and walking around the streets of Princeton.
“I mean the fact of the matter is that I don’t believe that 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’s job is to protect the safety and health of our citizens. And so, we’ve taken this action and I absolutely have no second thoughts about it.”
This post was updated at 9:38 a.m. ET with a statement from the New Jersey department of health.
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