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Lawmakers call for Ebola quarantines as experts urge calm

Republicans pushed for quarantines and other measures to prevent the spread of Ebola on Sunday.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie holds a Town Hall meeting in Franklin, N.J. on April 15, 2014. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie holds a Town Hall meeting in Franklin, N.J. on April 15, 2014.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defended his stringent Ebola precautions on Sunday, saying he didn't have "any second thoughts" about his decision to force a quarantine on a nurse who tested negative for Ebola, as well as anyone else who has traveled in Ebola hotspots.

"The government job is to protect safety and health of our citizens," Christie said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

"I absolutely have no second thoughts about it," he said, also noting that he expects quarantines “will become a national policy sooner rather than later.” CDC protocol has been “a moving target,” he added.

On Saturday, New Jersey officials quarantined a nurse who had recently returned from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. A preliminary test for Ebola was negative and she wasn't running a fever, but officials have forced her into a three-week quarantine at a New Jersey hospital anyway, treating her like a "criminal," the nurse, Kaci Hickox wrote in an op-ed for Dallas News

On Sunday, Hickox continued to slam Christie. "First of all, I don't think he's a doctor. Secondly, he's never laid eyes on me," Hickox said on CNN. "I have been asymptomatic since I've been here. I feel physically completely strong and emotionally completely exhausted." She called her mandatory quarantine -- in a tent inside a hospital building -- "completely unacceptable" and "not based on any clear public health evidence."

Later in the day, Christie doubled down even further, calling the nurse "high risk, and she presented a fever."

Hickox wrote in her op-ed that after hours of questioning, she was flushed and a forehead temperature scanner registered a fever. According to Hickox, an oral thermometer later confirmed her temperature to be 98.6.

The American Civil Liberties Union has demanded more information about how the state is forcing health care workers into quarantine,  saying it has “serious constitutional concerns about the state abusing its powers" and experts say quarantines will hurt relief efforts and stigmatize health care workers.

"There are other steps to protect American people based on scientific evidence that does not necessarily have to go so far as to possibly have unintended consequences of disincentivizing health care workers," the National Institutes of Health's Dr. Anthony Faucci said.

A senior administration official told NBC News that they had told Christie and others imposing bans that "we have concerns with the unintended consequences of policies not grounded in science may have on efforts to combat Ebola at its source in West Africa."

Despite the CDC's insistence that mandatory quarantines are not the best route, they have toured the facility and consulted with New Jersey officials over Hickox's quarantine and University Hospital assured the public in a statement that their "primary concern is ensuring the health of the patient and the public."

Christie was among a number of Republicans -- and some Democrats -- who pushed for quarantines and other measures to prevent the spread of Ebola on Sunday, while Democrats and government officials sought to convince the public that the outbreak is under control.

The political firestorm comes just over a week before the midterm elections and shortly after a doctor in New York City tested positive for the deadly virus after forgoing a self-quarantine to go bowling and take public transportation in the country’s most populous city. New York City officials reported on Sunday afternoon that the patient, Dr. Craig Spencer, was in "serious but stable condition."

"There is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a press conference on Sunday, reiterating that "there is no need to change our habits in New York City." De Blasio applauded the health care workers at Bellevue Hospital where Spencer is being cared for, and said that the way nurse Hockox is being treated in New Jersey is "inappropriate."

"I will not accept anyone disrespecting our nurses and medical personnel," De Blasio said. 

As health officials advise against forced quarantines, governors across the country are implementing them in states.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order requiring a quarantine on Sunday, just days before he faces former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on the ballot. Two governors thought to be eyeing a 2016 presidential run, Gov. Christie and New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, issued mandatory quarantine orders on Friday.

Experts say forced quarantines could hurt the relief efforts in West Africa, with doctors less likely to volunteer their time and skills if they are forced to add an additional three weeks of house arrest to the service.

“I think people are scared,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on CNN’s "State of the Union" in a contentious segment, trading barbs with Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who said the country needed to protect the public without “overreacting.”

Just as politicians squared off in TV studios, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power arrived in Guinea, where a release said she will “demonstrate U.S. support for these nations,” meeting with U.S. personnel on the ground and discussing international efforts with senior government officials and United Nations officials. 

She emphasized that doctors need to be volunteering abroad and treated like “heroes,” not a risk to the community when they return.

“You can monitor them in different ways, you don’t have to” quarantine them, Faucci said of health care workers on "Meet the Press." “The risk to the general public is vanishingly small.” 

Ebola -- and the fear of it -- have gripped the public and political cycle after two Dallas nurses contracted the disease after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who was diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. and later died. 

Both nurses have been declared Ebola-free and on Friday, the president met with one nurse, Nina Pham, giving her a hug to help show that she’s no longer a risk to the community.