WATCH Christie on Ebola: ‘I didn’t reverse any decision’
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Monday said he was happy that state health officials have released nurse Kaci Hickox from quarantine at University Hospital in Newark but denied the move represented a reversal of his decision to require quarantine for arriving travelers who've had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa.
"I didn't reverse any decision," Christie said, during a campaign stop for Florida Gov. Rick Scott. "She hadn't any symptoms for 24 hours and she tested negative for Ebola so there's no reason to keep her."
Quarantine policies like the ones announced by Christie, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state officials in Illinois and Maryland have drawn criticism from some federal officials and medical experts who warn they could make containing the epidemic more difficult.
President Obama said any measures involving health care workers "should be crafted so as not to unnecessarily discourage those workers from serving." U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, now in West Africa, said any returning workers should be "treated like conquering heroes and not stigmatized for the tremendous work that they have done."
Hickox, a nurse who volunteered in Africa with Doctors Without Borders was forced to spend her weekend in an isolation tent, despite having no symptoms other than a temperature she blamed on "inhumane" treatment at Newark International Airport. And now in Italy, a two-star Army general and 11 of his staff have volunteered to remain in isolation for 21 days after their return from Africa.
Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday that Army leaders made the decision to have any soldiers returning from Africa isolated and monitored for the three-week incubation period. It's not clear who in the Army made the decision, and so far Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has not ordered similar action by the other military services with troops in Africa.
Hickox, the nurse forced into quarantine Friday after arriving from Sierra Leone, was released at around 1:20 p.m. Monday and left the hospital in a private vehicle, a hospital spokesperson said. The state Health Department says she would was be flown on a private carrier to Maine, to be quarantined in her Fort Kent home for 21 days. An agency statement said she'd been symptom-free for 24 hours; Hickox has said she never had symptoms and tested negative for Ebola in a preliminary evaluation.
Hickox, the first person affected by New Jersey's mandatory 21-day quarantine for medical workers returning from West Africa, was talking about suing to protect the rights of other health care workers, and the American Civil Liberties Union also warned against overly coercive measures.
"She’s a good person and went over and was doing good work over in West Africa," Christie said of Hickox. "But she needs to understand that the obligation of elected officials is to protect the public health of all the people and if that inconvenienced her for a period of time, that’s what we need to do to protect the public, that’s what we will continue to do."d
Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called federal health guidelines inadequate when they announced their quarantine plans on Friday. Illinois and Maryland's governors made similar announcements.
Several governors have said their policies permit home confinement, with twice-daily monitoring, for medical workers who have had contact with Ebola patients but show no symptoms. Cuomo said quarantine tents would only be used if the workers don't have a home to go to in New York or New Jersey.
"We're staying one step ahead," Cuomo said Sunday night. "Some people say we're being too cautious. I'll take that criticism."
Asked about reports that Cuomo was "easing" New York's quarantine protocol, Christie said, "That’s been reported incorrectly. I spoke to Gov. Cuomo last night. He’s in the exact same position that he’s been all along."
Who will compensate these workers for three weeks of lost pay is another question. Cuomo's protocols would have the state pay their salaries if they aren't paid by a volunteer organization for their time in quarantine. But it wasn't immediately clear if other states will make similar offers, and even then, compensating volunteer medical workers to stay off their jobs would be another burden on charities.
Associated Press also contributed to this report.