WASHINGTON -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Sunday defended his abrupt Ebola quarantine policy, dismissing concerns that the aggressive treatment of health care workers would prevent American doctors from going overseas to combat the disease.
"The government's job is to protect safety and health of our citizens," Christie said on "Fox News Sunday." "I have no second thoughts about it."
Christie's policy, implemented in conjunction with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), runs well beyond what scientific professionals recommend. Anyone entering the U.S. through JFK or Newark airports who has had contact with Ebola patients will be subject to a 21-day quarantine -- the incubation period of the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared on several shows Sunday to warn that harsh treatment of health workers returning from Africa could backfire and jeopardize Americans.
"If you put everyone in one basket, even people who are clearly no threat, then we have the problem of the disincentive of people that we need," Fauci told ABC. "Let’s not forget the best way to stop this epidemic and protect America is to stop it in Africa, and you can really help stopping it in Africa if we have our people, our heroes, the health care workers, go there and help us to protect America."
Fauci's comments were echoed by Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
"All of us need to make clear what these health workers mean to us and how much we value their services, how much we value their contribution," Power said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We need to make sure they are treated like conquering heroes."
Christie brushed off those concerns.
"Folks that … take that step and are willing to volunteer also understand it's in their interest and in public health interest [to be quarantined for three weeks]," Christie said.
Cuomo also defended the quarantine during a radio interview on Sunday, saying it was enforceable "as a matter of law."
Kaci Hickox, a nurse who had volunteered with Doctors Without Borders to treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, said in an op-ed for the Dallas Morning News that she was treated like a "criminal" upon her return to the United States from West Africa. Hickox said she was detained for six hours in a process that seemed punitive and absent of medical expertise -- "a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine." Hickox tested negative for Ebola when she was finally allowed to leave the airport for a hospital, where she is being quarantined for three weeks.
"I sat alone in the isolation tent and thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal," Hickox wrote. "Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?"
A total of four U.S. patients have been diagnosed with Ebola since late September. The CDC confirmed on Sept. 30 that a man who had traveled from Liberia to Dallas had tested positive for the disease, and two nurses who treated him eventually tested positive as well amid widespread criticism of the hospital's protocols to protect its workers. Public health officials now believe that case to be contained. Another doctor who had treated Ebola patients in Guinea tested positive in New York City last week.
Ebola can only be contracted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person experiencing Ebola symptoms. While public health officials remain alarmed by the outbreak in West Africa, where resources, medical infrastructure and personnel are all in short supply, concerns for a major outbreak in the U.S. are much more muted.
Christie said the quarantine arrangement was a necessary step to protect the public in densely populated areas, criticizing the federal Centers for Disease Control.
"The fact of the matter is, CDC protocols … have been moving target," Christie said.
Doctors Without Borders is a public health nonprofit that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. The organization issued a press release criticizing Hickox's treatment, saying they are concerned about the conditions of her quarantine and the apparent lack of information on the terms of the Christie-Cuomo policy.
“There is a notable lack of clarity about the new guidelines announced yesterday by state authorities in New York and New Jersey,” said Doctors Without Borders Executive Director Sophie Delaunay.
The CDC has the authority to issue recommendations for public health issues like Ebola, and has not suggested quarantines. But state and local officials have the authority to impose more stringent standards if they see fit. A major nurses union has sustained criticism of the CDC's guidelines, calling them unclear.