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New Jersey Case Raises Questions About Legality Of Ebola Quarantines


The CDC issued new guidelines today for people traveling from West Africa. The policy comes as states continue to put out their own guidelines. NPR's Jeff Brady reports on that and on this latest from the CDC.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The new guidelines spell out in more detail what restrictions should be put on people who may be at risk of exposure to Ebola. The highest risk, like someone stuck by needle used on an Ebola patient, would be advised to be stay home and avoid mass transit. Returning health care workers who had contact with Ebola patients could face restrictions on their movements. CDC director Tom Frieden says they'll also undergo direct active monitoring.

THOMAS FRIEDEN: That means that someone who is accountable to the local health department or state health department observes as their temperature is taken. That person also has a conversation with the individual.

BRADY: Frieden says that talk includes a detailed checklist of symptoms. He's concerned returning health care workers could be seen as pariahs, which could lead some of them to not be honest about their exposure history. He says it also could discourage workers from going to West Africa to treat patients. He says that's what's needed to contain the disease. Still, the governors of New Jersey and New York stood by their policies earlier today.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey says the decision to quarantine a returning nurse there over the weekend was taken because at one point a test showed she had a fever. Christie spoke in Florida in front of a noisy campaign bus. He was stumping for the Republican governor there.


GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: But you know, the fact is, I'm not going to step away for a minute from protecting the people of my state and our region and so I understand that she didn't want to be there. She made that very clear from the beginning, but my obligation is to all of the people of New Jersey and we're just going to continue to do that.

BRADY: Christie says that the first choice is to quarantine a worker at home, but he says in this case, that was not possible. New York mayor Bill de Blasio said he wanted to make it very clear what the current quarantine policy is there.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: An individual citizen or a healthcare worker who says I have been in contact with someone with Ebola while in one of the three countries is immediately checked for symptoms. If there are symptoms - immediately taken to emergency care. If there are no symptoms - home quarantine.

BRADY: President Obama appointed an Ebola czar to oversee the country's response to the disease, but other states are starting to follow New York and New Jersey's lead, including Illinois, Virginia and Maryland. Georgia's new policy covering the Atlanta airport says people who had contact with an Ebola patient will be subject to quarantine at a quote, "designated facility." The U.S. Army also made the decision to put soldiers returning from West Africa in what it calls a controlled area. New Jersey's health department decided today that Nurse Kaci Hickox can return to her home in Maine. The department says she did not travel on a commercial flight or mass transit. Lawrence Gostin, the director of Georgetown University's Institute for Global Health Law says Hickox's rights may have been violated and quarantines like New Jersey's may not be legal.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: This is really more an early 20th century, even mid-19th century notion that you can simply quarantine a whole class of people. We don't do that in the modern constitutional age where we balance public health with civil liberties.

BRADY: In Kaci Hickox's case, Maine's health department says it will go beyond its regular protocol, which is to actively monitor those who've been to West Africa for 21 days. The state says it also will make sure Hickox remains quarantined in her home.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues, climate change and the mid-Atlantic region. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.