White House criticizes confinement of nurse

The White House criticized New Jersey’s mandatory quarantine for a health care worker returning from West Africa, saying the U.S. shouldn’t “unduly burden” people volunteering to help stem the tide of Ebola.

“Her service and commitment to this cause is something that should be honored and respected, and I don't think we do that by making her live in a tent for two or three days,” White House Press Secretary said of Kaci Hickox, an epidemiologist who was quarantined in a tent at a New Jersey hospital after arriving in the U.S. Friday from Sierra Leone where she was working to help treat Ebola patients.

His remarks came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was to release new guidelines for states to monitor returning health care workers without physically quarantining them.

Hickox was cleared to leave by New Jersey officials Monday after she tested negative for the virus. Earnest credited her release to coordination between the federal government and New Jersey and New York, whose governors on Friday decided to impose 21-day quarantines on health care workers returning from West Africa after a New York doctor who had returned to the U.S. was diagnosed with Ebola.

Federal officials had opposed the move, warning it could deter health workers from volunteering and maintaining that people without symptoms do not transmit the disease. Earnest though, wouldn’t say if President Barack Obama called New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who loosened his state’s quarantine protocols on Sunday.

“There is a body of medical science and research that should guide the implementation of these policies,” Earnest said. “And we're gonna work closely with states and localities to do exactly that.”

Earnest acknowledged the federal government can’t make the states follow the federal protocols but said it wants to ensure “that whatever policies are put in place in this country to protect the American public do not serve as a disincentive to doctors and nurses from this country volunteering to travel to West Africa to treat Ebola patients.”

He said Ebola there is an “exceedingly low” threat of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S., but that “the only way that we can entirely eliminate that risk is to stop this Ebola outbreak in it tracks in West Africa.”

There was considerable confusion, however, within the administration with reports that one commanding officer at the Department of Defense had decided to quarantine troops returning from West Africa, even as the Department of Defense continues to develop its protocols.

American military personnel in West Africa are not rendering medical assistance, but setting up treatment centers and helping get supplies into the area.