Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Sunday night said people returning from West Africa who have come in contact with Ebola virus patients but are not showing symptoms will be quarantined for 21 days at home instead of in a hospital.
The announcement marked a change in the policy outlined by Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday that drew criticism from federal and local officials, and medical experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. They said it would discourage doctors and nurses from volunteering to help stem the outbreak.
It also came after the Obama administration pushed back against the governors for requiring the quarantine of all health care workers returning from West Africa who had contact with Ebola patients, sources familiar with the situation said.
Under Cuomo's and Christie's plan, all medical workers entering the country through Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports had to submit to the quarantine if they had been in Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone, even if they had not shown infection symptoms. Illinois has a similar policy. Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Saturday ordered twice daily monitoring for anyone returning from places designated as affected by Ebola.
Nurse preparing lawsuit
Kaci Hickox, a nurse who was the first traveler placed under the mandatory quarantine, Sunday retained well-known civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who told Newsday that he and other lawyers are preparing to challenge the quarantine on her behalf in New Jersey court.
"The mandated quarantine policy enacted by both governors Christie and Cuomo is a serious violation of civil liberties issues," said Siegel, of Manhattan. "It infringes on Kaci Hickox's civil liberties."
Hickox, 33, said Sunday that she feels her "basic human rights have been violated" and likened her isolation at University Hospital in Newark to prison.
The White House announced Sunday night that the federal government is developing new guidelines for monitoring health workers.
Cuomo, at a news conference in Manhattan, acknowledged that New York's policy is stricter than the federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
"Some people will say we're being too cautious. I'll take that criticism, because that's better than the alternative," he said. "And as governor of New York, my number one job is to protect the people of New York, and this does that."
Cuomo said he has not been pressured by the White House to loosen the quarantine. Christie, in an interview with reporters posted on his Twitter feed, also said he had not been pressured to change the policy.
But a senior Obama administration official said Sunday, "We have let the governors of New York, New Jersey, and other states know 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."
3 quarantine scenarios
Cuomo outlined three scenarios for determining quarantines. If a person arrives and has symptoms of the Ebola virus, he or she will be transported in protective gear to one of the city hospitals designated to treat Ebola patients.
If a person had direct contact with people infected with the Ebola virus but shows no symptoms, he or she will be transported by private vehicle to their homes, where they will be quarantined for 21 days with at least two unannounced visits by local officials.
If a person arrives from one of the affected areas with no symptoms and had no direct contact with anyone infected with the Ebola virus, he or she would be monitored on a case-by-case basis.
The governor said the state would cover any loss of income for the quarantined and would "talk with" the employers of those at risk of losing their jobs. If they eventually display symptoms of Ebola, an at-home quarantine would have limited the number of people they came in contact with, he said.
Obama Sunday convened his public health and national security teams to discuss appropriate measures to mitigate the risk of additional domestic Ebola cases, according to a news release from the White House press secretary's office. The president "underscored that the steps we take must be guided by the best medical science, as informed by our most knowledgeable public health experts," according to the release.
De Blasio Sunday visited the floor where Dr. Craig Spencer, a Doctors Without Borders physician who returned from Guinea, is being treated for Ebola at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan.
Respect urged for workers
De Blasio, in a news conference at the hospital, called the treatment of Hickox "inappropriate" and said workers at Bellevue had been upset about her situation and said they had been discriminated against. He likened nurses, doctors and other health care workers to "Marines" in the war on Ebola.
De Blasio participated in Cuomo's news conference but neither he nor his health commissioner, Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, expressed an opinion about the quarantines. De Blasio wasn't consulted by Cuomo or Christie before their Friday announcement.
Ebola has killed 4,922 people in West Africa this year.
Fauci said Sunday he would not have recommended the states' quarantine policy had he been consulted.
Speaking to NBC's "Meet the Press," Fauci urged government officials to "go with the science" because only symptomatic patients can spread the virus.
"The best way to stop this epidemic is to help the people in West Africa," Fauci said. "We need to treat returning people with respect."
One of the largest U.S. organizations of hospital infection control experts announced Sunday night that it is opposed to mandatory quarantines for health care personnel returning from Ebola-endemic countries. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology joined other medical and public health organizations that have gone on record against rigorous periods of confinement.
With Michael Gormley, Valerie Bauman, Ridgely Ochs, David Schwartz, Laura Figueroa
and Delthia Ricks