Both the governors have ordered a mandatory 21 day quarantine for all doctors, health care workers and travelers who came in contact with Ebola victims in West Africa.
The move came after a New York City doctor who returned to the U.S. a week ago from treating Ebola victims in Guinea was diagnosed with the lethal disease.
Many New Yorkers and others were dismayed to learn that in the week before he was hospitalized, Dr. Craig Spencer rode the subway, took a cab, went bowling, visited a coffee shop and ate at a restaurant.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the case forced them to conclude that the two states need guidelines more rigorous than those of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends voluntary quarantines.
“It’s too serious a situation to leave it to the honor system of compliance,” Cuomo said.
Spencer’s illness led lawmakers on Capitol Hill, scientists and ordinary New Yorkers to wonder why he was out on the town after his return from West Africa — and why stronger steps weren’t being taken to quarantine medical workers.
Health officials said he followed U.S. and international protocols in checking his temperature every day and watching for symptoms, and put no one at risk. But others said he should have been quarantined — that is, kept away from others, either voluntarily or by the government — during Ebola’s 21-day incubation period.
An automatic three-week quarantine makes sense for anyone “with a clear exposure” to Ebola, said Dr. Richard Wenzel, a Virginia Commonwealth University scientist who formerly led the International Society for Infectious Diseases.
Doctors Without Borders, the group Spencer was working for, said in a statement that that would be going too far. People with Ebola aren’t contagious until symptoms begin, and even then it requires close contact with body fluids.
“As long as a returned staff member does not experience any symptoms, normal life can proceed,” the organization said in a statement.
Aid organizations also warned that many health care volunteers wouldn’t go to Ebola hot zones if they knew they would be confined to their homes for three weeks after they got back.
On the streets of New York, Michael Anderson was critical of the U.S. government and Spencer.
“He’s stupid, a complete idiot” for moving about in public, the longtime Manhattan resident said at Grand Central Station. “It’s his responsibility when you come back from Africa” not to put people at risk, he said.