Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched an initiative Thursday offering financial incentives and employment protections to local health care workers who travel to West Africa to aid in the fight against the Ebola virus there.
"We happen to be one of the places where a lot of the great medical talent resides, and so it is incumbent on New York State and New York City to play a leading role in recruiting and supporting the medical professionals going over there," de Blasio said at an unrelated news conference Thursday in Manhattan. "We have to remember: The best way to solve this problem is at the root cause."
The mayor has been critical of the treatment of Kaci Hickox, a nurse who returned from Guinea and tested negative for Ebola but was quarantined in an isolation tent at University Hospital in Newark until New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie permitted her to return to her home in Maine.
De Blasio has called her a hero and said she was disrespected, but he has been careful not to slam Cuomo and Christie's policy of quarantining asymptomatic health care workers who arrived through Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports.
"We are on the same page," de Blasio insisted of his office and Cuomo's office. "We appreciate the state guidelines. We will now align with those guidelines."
Their incentive program would be modeled after the benefits and rights provided to military reservists allowing them to transition more seamlessly to civilian life after their service, Cuomo and de Blasio said in a joint announcement. The officials did not immediately detail how much would be offered to workers who travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea, the three countries battling an Ebola epidemic.
"We believe that public health in West Africa and the public health in New York are interconnected and both must be addressed," Cuomo said in a statement.
In a separate announcement Thursday, Cuomo said two hospitals in Erie County and Buffalo had been designated for the treatment of Ebola patients, bringing the state's total to 10 health care facilities. New York City has five hospitals ready to care for Ebola patients, including Bellevue Hospital Center, where Ebola-infected Manhattan doctor Craig Spencer is in serious but stable condition, de Blasio said Thursday.
Meanwhile, the 5-year-old Bronx boy who tested negative for Ebola at Bellevue was released Thursday after being treated for a respiratory illness, according to officials with the city Health and Hospitals Corporation and health department. He, his mother and a sibling will be "actively monitored" by the city because they recently returned from Guinea, officials said.
Cuomo had joined Christie in imposing a 21-day quarantine -- at home for those travelers who have come from West Africa but show no symptoms of infection.
Their policy has been criticized by Hickox and national health experts as not based on science. Cuomo acknowledged his policy went further than the guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
De Blasio spokeswoman Marti Adams on Thursday said New York City is currently monitoring 117 people who have not displayed Ebola symptoms, doing so as a precaution and according to CDC guidelines. State or local health authorities establish regular communications with the individuals, rather than relying on them to self-monitor or report symptoms.
Most of the people are travelers who have arrived in the city from the three West African countries since Oct. 11. Others are Bellevue hospital staff, FDNY, EMS and lab workers who have treated, transported or tested Spencer.
Spencer's fiancee and two friends, all under quarantine at their homes but permitted to receive visitors, according to the state's policy, are also on the city's "active monitoring" list.