Top Health Official Warns That Ebola Quarantines Could Backfire

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Dr. Anthony Fauci hugs Nina Pham, the Dallas nurse who survived Ebola.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the top National Institutes of Health officials spearheading efforts to combat Ebola, called new quarantine rules imposed by New York and New Jersey “draconian.” Fauci warned Sunday the requirements that returning health workers spend 21 days in mandatory quarantine could discourage health workers from volunteering in countries devastated by the Ebola crisis.

New York and New Jersey airports instituted the 21-day rule Friday, even though Ebola can only be transmitted when an infected person is showing symptoms.

“I don’t want to be directly criticizing the decision that was made but we have to be careful that there aren’t unintended consequences,” Fauci said on NBC’s Meet The Press. “The best way to stop this epidemic is to help the people in West Africa. We do that by sending people over there, not just from the U.S.A, but from other places. We need to treat returning people with respect.”

The first health worker to be quarantined under the new rule, a nurse volunteering with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone, doesn’t seem to be receiving that respect. Kaci Hickox, 33, is reportedly being held in an unheated tent in paper scrubs, much to the consternation of Doctors Without Borders. She has thus far tested negative for Ebola.

Dr. Rick Sacra, who contracted and survived Ebola after working in Liberia, also criticized the quarantines on the Today Show on Saturday. “There’s a huge need for volunteers from a resource-rich place like the U.S. and Europe and other places in the world who have those resources,” he said.

Ebola has taken a particularly heavy toll on caretakers and health workers. Dr. Craig Spencer, the New York doctor who recently fell ill after treating patients in Guinea, was quickly criticized for not isolating himself and going bowling after he returned. But according to all reports, Spencer was monitoring himself for fever and went to the hospital as soon as he started showing symptoms. “He reported the moment he had symptoms, he followed every protocol that was necessary. And by getting into care early, he’s giving himself the best chance of a cure and of doing well,” Sacra said.

The Obama administration said later Sunday they were pressuring Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Gov. Anthony Cuomo (D-NY) to reverse the quarantine decision. A senior official told the New York Times the new rule was “uncoordinated, very hurried, an immediate reaction to the New York City case that doesn’t comport with science.”