Lawmakers continued to implement and defend stringent Ebola precautions this week, rejecting U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and experts who say that mandatory quarantines are medically unnecessary and counterproductive.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie slammed the CDC and experts for opposing his mandatory quarantine, saying it was “because they don’t want to admit that we’re right and they’re wrong.” Speaking on the “Today Show,” he argued that his policy to force anyone returning from Ebola hotspots into a 21 day quarantine was being implemented by a growing number of states and the military. “I don’t think it’s draconian,” he said.
Just a week before the midterm elections, Ebola – and the public’s anxieties about the deadly virus – have gripped the country and the political landscape. Seven states’ governors have implemented strict quarantine policies for health care workers, and sometimes even unexposed travelers, returning from Ebola hotspots. Six of them are up for reelection next week. Christie, the exception, is widely thought to be eyeing a 2016 presidential run.
Meanwhile, the Ebola virus continues to ravage West Africa, where it has infected nearly 10,000 and killing roughly half that number. Aid workers are badly needed in the region, and experts worry that mandatory quarantine policies will deter them from carrying out their critical work.
This week, Maryland and Georgia joined Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Illinois and Florida in establishing monitoring protocols and mandatory quarantines, usually for health care workers who have had contact with Ebola patients. Minnesota instituted a lesser requirement this week, only asking health care workers who know they’ve had direct exposure to the deadly virus without any kind of protective gear to quarantine themselves.
‘I will not submit’
Christie’s at the center of the quarantine debate after quarantining nurse Kaci Hickox on Friday. The Maine resident had been treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, and was quarantined in a New Jersey hospital after landing at Newark Airport, despite being asymptomatic. Christie repeatedly declared her to be sick, though the nurse wrote in an Op-Ed on Sunday that the governor’s determination was based on a faulty forehead thermometer reading while she was flushed after hours of questioning.
“Governors ultimately have the responsibility to protect the public health and public safety,” Christie said Tuesday in the face of mounting public criticism over New Jersey’s quarantine policy. “I will not submit to any political pressure.”
He also noted that a Nobel Prize-winning researcher had recently come out in support of his mandatory quarantine and said ”we’re not moving an inch. We have not changed and our policy will not change.”
Hickox’s quarantine – and the policy calling for it – was widely criticized by many, including experts, as politically motivated. Mandatory quarantines are “a little bit draconian,” the National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday. Asked if his decision was based on public opinion rather than science, Christie defiantly responded, “I’m going to be on the right side of both ultimately.”
“They have decided to ignore science and evidence and decades of careful observations made by those brave enough to have gone to Africa to assist in the control of epidemics,” infectious disease expert Dr. Kent Sepkowitz wrote in The Daily Beast of Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, two of the earliest to institute a ban.
After much criticism, Hickox was transferred home on Monday, where her lawyer and Maine officials are fighting over how long her quarantine period should be.
Despite public anxiety, there have been just nine cases of Ebola in the country.
Five Americans were evacuated from abroad to the U.S. to be treated for the disease and four people have been diagnosed inside the U.S., including Doctors Without Borders’ Dr. Craig Spencer, Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, and two nurses who were exposed while treating Duncan, Amber Vinson and Nina Pham. Duncan died of the illness earlier this month, while both nurses who treated him have recovered.
Spencer is the only American currently being treated for the disease in the country. Vinson is expected to be released from Emory University’s hospital on Tuesday afternoon, where she’ll make a statement.
Hundreds more Americans who had contact with the nine patients are currently being monitored, with varying levels of restrictions. Every day, more are cleared as they complete the three week monitoring period, the longest time the disease is known to incubate inside humans.
On Tuesday, Australia announced a travel ban, instituting a policy that U.S. lawmakers spent last week feuding over. Following the CDC announcement that the agency would monitor travelers from Ebola hotspots, the U.S. conversation turned to forced quarantines.