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After President Obama made a divisive statement earlier this week arguing that the military should be quarantined after returning from West Africa but healthcare workers should not, the White House is shifting its approach to Ebola, saying “the state can and should be responsible for setting this policy.”
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One that President Obama thinks policies tackling Ebola should be “guided by science,” but it is the decision of individual states to set their policy.
“What I would say is that the President believes that the state can and should be responsible for setting this policy. The President believes those policies should be guided by science, but ultimately it is their decision.”
CBS Senior White House Correspondent Bill Plante reported Monday that after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) instituted new Ebola quarantine regulations last week which mandated all healthcare workers undergo a quarantine for 21 days after returning from West Africa, the White House fiercely objected to the plan.
The New York Times reported the same thing Sunday.
“At the White House, Obama administration officials said they sought repeatedly to persuade Mr. Christie and Mr. Cuomo to reconsider the quarantines, which they viewed as not just unnecessary but counterproductive.”
President Obama said in a press briefing Tuesday a quarantine was appropriate for the military but not healthcare workers because members of the military “are not there voluntarily,” The Hill reported.
“It’s part of their mission that’s been assigned to them by their commanders and ultimately by me, the commander-in-chief. So we don’t expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians. They are already by definition, if they’re in the military, under more circumscribed conditions.”
The president later said healthcare workers do not have to undergo a quarantine because they have “to tackle a very difficult job.”
“When we have volunteers who are taking time out from their families, from their loved ones and so forth, to go over there because they have very particular expertise to tackle a very difficult job – we want to make sure that when they come back that we are prudent, that we are making sure that they are not at risk themselves or at risk of spreading the disease – but we don’t want to do things that aren’t based on science and best practices.”
Governor Cuomo cited a poll Friday which showed a decisive majority of New Yorkers support an Ebola quarantine, the New York Observer reports (though Cuomo misstated the figures by two percentage points). A Wall Street Journal/NBC 4 New York/Marist College survey revealed that 82 percent of New Yorkers approve of the Christie/Cuomo quarantine plan. The Empire State Governor asserted on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show Friday that a three-week quarantine for Ebola is not “that big a hardship.”
“I understand their concern, I don’t think it’s that big a hardship. The people of the state of New York overwhelmingly support it. Poll came out today, 84 percent of the people in New York want to see a home quarantine. That actually gives people comfort.”
Cuomo also pointed to the need for the quarantine after Dr. Craig Spencer, who is currently being treated at Bellevue Hospital in lower Manhattan, lied about his whereabouts after treating patients in West Africa on behalf of Doctors Without Borders. He argued that such a instance would not happen again.
“I think the lack of a policy, I think a policy that they think makes no sense, I think the experience they went through where we went on this hunt to find out where the person had been, on what subway, at what time, at what restaurant, and had people wondering did they happen to come in contact, I think that’s what spreads fear.
“I think the certainty we gave, the common sense approach that we gave, actually calmed people. And that shows. We don’t have to guess.”
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Photo Credit: The City Project (Flickr)