In the wake of a lot of media scrutiny and powerful first-person accounts, the White House has begun to put pressure on NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo and NJ Gov. Chris Christie to reverse the mandatory quarantine orders they issued Friday. The Times reports that since then, "top administration officials have been speaking with Mr. Cuomo daily and have also been in touch with Mr. Christie, trying to get them to rescind the order." So far, it seems to be having the opposite effect: at least two more states (Illinois, Florida) have announced similar mandatory policies.
The decision to announce a mandatory 21-day quarantine for any travelers arriving at JFK and Newark Liberty airports who may have had contact with Ebola-infected patients overseas was not discussed with any federal (or city) officials (and it seemingly came in direct response to the movements of Dr. Craig Spencer, who has tested positive for Ebola, around the city). The CDC, and groups like Doctors Without Borders, had offered guidelines for how health care workers should handle any possible infections (this included self-quarantining), but Cuomo and Christie's announcement implied that CDC's "voluntary screening" policy had been ineffective.
Anonymous officials who spoke to the Times called the decision by the governors "uncoordinated, very hurried, an immediate reaction to the New York City case that doesn’t comport with science." The first person who was quarantined, nurse Kaci Hickox, agrees with them: she said that she fears that the policy will discourage other health care workers from heading to Ebola-ravaged countries, and criticized politicians for trying trying to dictate health policy.
Another federal official echoed that sentiment to CNN: "[The CDC is] not happy," the official said. "These two governors said, 'Take this, federal government.' They're very worried we won't be able to get physicians or nurses to go (to countries affected by the Ebola outbreak)." City officials were also blindsided: "The entire city was not informed, even the mayor’s office,” a city official involved in NY's Ebola response said to the Times. “The mayor was caught unaware. The big picture decision was made in the absence of any deep thinking about what implementing the policy would entail."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke out against the quarantine as well:
"The best way to protect us is to stop the epidemic in Africa, and we need those health care workers,” Fauci, one of the leaders of the federal government’s Ebola response, said on Fox News Sunday.
"So we do not want to put them in a position where it makes it very, very uncomfortable for them to even volunteer to go ... If we don’t have our people volunteering to go over there, then you’re going to have other countries around the world that are not going to do it, and then the epidemic will continue to roar.”
After some hemming and hawing, Cuomo defended the policy today and said that it "is enforceable as a matter of law." He added that he expects health workers will comply willingly: "It's highly unlikely that a doctor who is coming back, who just volunteered, who may be infected, wouldn't cooperate with the authorities. It's exactly antithetical to what the doctor does," he said on a radio show Sunday morning. "But if you had someone who didn't want to cooperate, you can enforce it legally. There's no doubt about that."
While more political infighting will likely go on behind the scenes, Hickox isn't planning on waiting around: “The policy infringes on Kaci Hickox’s constitutional liberty interests," said her lawyer, Norman Siegel, who is challenging the order to get her out of isolation. "The policy is overly broad as applied to Ms. Hickox and we are preparing to challenge it on her behalf."
Christie meanwhile has not wavered: "The government's job is to protect safety and health of our citizens. I have no second thoughts about it," Christie said on Fox News. "I think this is a policy that will become a national policy sooner rather than later."