Feds forego mandatory quarantines in new Ebola rules, but states get final say

Feds forego mandatory quarantines in new Ebola rules, but states get final say
(Image credit: Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

With states enacting a hodgepodge of rules for people potentially exposed to Ebola, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stepped in Monday with new guidelines. Unlike New Jersey, New York, and a handful of other states, the CDC recommendations don't include mandatory quarantines for health workers and others returning from Ebola-stricken areas in West Africa.

The CDC can't enforce its guidelines, and states can continue to write their own quarantine rules. But the federal government advises that returning medics and other travelers with no symptoms but deemed "high risk" — they were jabbed with a needle while treating Ebola patients, for example — face travel restrictions and be asked to stay home and avoid public places for 21 days. Most people returning from West Africa will just be directly, actively monitored for 21 days.

"If we do things that make it very difficult for people to come back, if we turn them into pariahs instead of recognizing the heroic work that they're doing," said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, it will discourage people from helping end the Ebola outbreak in Africa — the only thing that would really make the U.S. safe.

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) disagreed with the CDC guidelines and stood by their more stringent quarantine rules — though Christie said on Monday that nurse Kaci Hickox, involuntarily quarantined in a Newark tent after returning from Sierra Leone and a stint treating Ebola patients with Doctors Without Borders, will be allowed to return home to Maine via private transport.

The White House acknowledged Monday that its power in the matter mostly consists of trying to persuade states. Asked why there's not binding federal policy on handling potential Ebola carriers, White House spokesman Josh Earnest referred to the drafters of the Constitution: "I guess you can take that up with James Madison."

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