Concerns raised over NY Ebola quarantine plan

A policy of quarantine was announced for health workers returning to the US from West Africa.

New York residents are fearing the deadly Ebola virus will spread in the city after a US doctor contracted the disease. Picture: EPA.

NEW YORK - The White House is consulting with the Governors of New York and New Jersey on the controversial measure they have adopted to help prevent the spread of Ebola.

In response to New York's first patient diagnosed with the deadly virus, the governors announced over the weekend a policy of mandatory quarantine for health workers returning to the US from West African countries.

The governor's decision to enforce the quarantine has come up against much criticism, especially from the scientific community, who maintain it's only necessary for those who show symptoms.

The Obama administration has expressed deep concerns to the governors and is working to come up with the solution that allows Americans to feel protected from the virus, yet still follows the guidance of the government's scientific advisers.

There are also concerns the mandatory three-week quarantine will discourage volunteers from going to West Africa to help.

Norman Siegel, a civil rights lawyer, said Kaci Hickox's isolation upon her return from West Africa raised "serious constitutional and civil liberties issues," given that she shows no Ebola symptoms and has not tested positive for the disease.

"We're not going to dispute that the government has, under certain circumstances, the right to issue a quarantine," said Siegel, who was on his way to visit Hickox in a New Jersey hospital. "The policy is overly broad when applied to her."

The lawsuit would be the first to challenge the 21-day mandatory quarantine imposed by New Jersey for anyone arriving with a high risk of having contracted Ebola from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, where the epidemic has killed nearly 5,000 people.

The case could also affect similar policies announced by other states including New York and Illinois.

The lawsuit will argue that Hickox's constitutional right to due process was violated when she was forced into isolation, Siegel said.

State officials implemented a blanket policy without identifying a rational basis for confining asymptomatic individuals like Hickox, he said.

"The case law makes clear that the policy should be driven by medical fact, not fear," he said.

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday the state wanted to encourage health workers to go to West Africa to treat Ebola patients, responding to concerns that new state rules on mandatory quarantines would keep doctors and nurses away from the stricken region.

"This is a war on a virus in West Africa," Cuomo said in a joint press conference with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. "We are trying to balance aid to West Africa and protection and the public health of New Yorkers."