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Governors Defend Decisions On Ebola Quarantines


The governors of New York, New Jersey and Illinois have announced mandatory 21-day quarantines for people returning from West Africa who have had direct contact with Ebola patients. Florida and Connecticut have also put in place new monitoring procedures for recent travelers to the region.

A nurse who returned from Sierra Leone on Friday is being held at a New Jersey hospital even though she says she has no symptoms of the virus. New York's mayor Bill de Blasio called her a hero and said that she has been disrespected. The new quarantine policy was implemented on Friday amid controversy and confusion. Today, the governors of New York and New Jersey defended their decision. WNYC's Matt Katz reports.

MATT KATZ, BYLINE: When a New York doctor tested positive for Ebola, officials in New Yorker and New Jersey appeared to be on the same page as they urged calm. They said they were working cooperatively with the federal government to monitor travelers from Africa who were possibly exposed to Ebola. But by Friday afternoon, that all changed. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo joined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called a surprise news conference to announce a dramatic switch in policy.

ANDREW CUOMO: I believe this adjustment and increasing the screening procedures as necessary. I think it reduces the risk to New Yorkers and to the residents of New Jersey.

KATZ: That adjustment in policy called for a mandatory quarantine of all travelers from West Africa who had contact with Ebola patients. The new policy was immediately implemented when a nurse named Kaci Hickox landed Friday at Newark Airport in New Jersey after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. Hickox says she wasn't ill but was escorted by police to a building adjacent to a nearby hospital. She has been quarantined in a tent within this building without a shower or TV ever since. Civil liberties attorneys have complained about her treatment. And on Sunday morning, she talked to CNN on her iPhone. She called the decision to quarantine her inhumane. And contrary to what Christie has claimed, she says she has no fever.

KACI HICKOX: You know, I think we have to be very careful about letting politicians make medical and public health decisions. And all of the evidence about Ebola shows that if you are not symptomatic, you are not infectious.

KATZ: Not all politicians agree with the governor's decision. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is said to be dismayed that he was not informed by Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, about the change in policy, even though de Blasio had held a joint news conference about Ebola with Cuomo the day before.

Obama administration officials have also said the decision by the governors is unnecessary and would impose a chilling effect on American medical personnel now so desperately needed in Africa.

Both governors were on the campaign trail this weekend defending their move as a display of leadership. Cuomo is running for re-election. And Christie was in several states campaigning for Republican candidates as he toys with a possible run for President. He spoke to Fox News Sunday from Florida.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: This is government's job. If anything else, the government's job is to protect the safety and health of our citizens.

KATZ: But a high-ranking government official in New Jersey, who was not authorized to speak on the sensitive issue and requested anonymity, says there's still a lot of confusion. No guidelines have been issued on whether those who refuse to be quarantined can be forcibly detained by law enforcement or whether military personnel helping in West Africa would also be subject to mandatory quarantine. The official said travelers with possible exposure to Ebola could be landing at Newark Airport and Kennedy Airport in New York every day. For NPR News, I'm Matt Katz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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