A 5-year-old boy with a fever who recently returned from Ebola-stricken West Africa is being tested for the deadly virus at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital Center, Dr. Ram Raju told CNN on Monday.
Also on Monday, a nurse who was quarantined after returning to New Jersey from Sierra Leone on Friday was ordered released.
The boy was hospitalized over the weekend and is with his mother, Raju said. Health care workers are taking a thorough history of the child’s recent travel with his family to West Africa and are trying to determine if he’s come into contact with people who have Ebola, said Raju, the president of New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which oversees Bellevue.
Results of the boy’s Ebola test should be available within 12 hours, officials said.
Bellevue is also where Ebola-positive New York doctor Craig Spencer, 33, is in isolation. Raju said that he is in serious but stable condition. Spencer arrived home in the United States on October 17 after spending time in Guinea. Because he’d had contact with Ebola patients, Spencer took pains to limit his interaction with others, but he did go places and spend time with friends.
Spencer’s fiancee, Morgan Dixon, had been under quarantine at Bellevue, but doctors said she did not have the virus and has no symptoms, said Jean Weinberg, the city Health Department spokeswoman.
“We learned a lot from Dallas,” Raju said, referring to all that went wrong in Texas when a Liberian national arrived from West Africa with Ebola and two nurses treating him contracted the virus.
While Raju and other officials are confident they’ve handled these cases well, some health care workers who’ve recently returned to New York after having contact with Ebola patients aren’t as satisfied.
Although none of the health care workers are showing Ebola symptoms, they must serve a mandatory 21-day quarantine in their homes, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday night.
This is a change in the recently instituted state policy on health workers who return to the United States from the Ebola zone.
Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie jointly announced a mandatory quarantine policy Friday.
New York, New Jersey and Illinois say anyone returning from having direct contact with Ebola patients in West Africa will have to be quarantined for 21 days. The 21-day period marks the maximum incubation period for Ebola.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said the quarantine would be a “home quarantine.”
“This protective measure is too important to be voluntary,” Quinn said.
When Christie and Cuomo announced their new policies Friday, they called for hospitalization or quarantine. But on Sunday night, after debate over the policies heated up, the governors said the quarantines could be carried out at home.
Governor orders nurse’s release
On Monday, Christie’s office announced that an American nurse, Kaci Hickox, would be released after she was ordered quarantined after returning to New Jersey from West Africa.
She had been treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. She was not exhibiting Ebola symptoms and, while in isolation, told CNN by phone that she felt “strong” and wasn’t sick at all. She has tested negative for Ebola twice.
“This is an extreme that is really unacceptable, and I feel like my basic human rights have been violated,” Hickox told CNN’s Candy Crowley on “State of the Union” on Sunday.
She slammed Christie for describing her as “obviously ill.”
White House disagrees with governors
Hickox’s quarantine was highly criticized. The Obama administration has been urging Cuomo and Christie to reverse their 21-day quarantine for all health workers who had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa, The New York Times reported Sunday.
The conflict has taken place privately in phone calls and negotiations, with federal officials saying they think the governors are wrong about needing a total quarantine, The Times reported.
Arguments against the quarantines are that it could deter health care workers from traveling to West Africa to fight Ebola and could greatly hurt their livelihoods.
“I’m concerned of the disincentive for the health care workers” to travel to West Africa, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
“If I lose three weeks on my return and don’t get to do the work I’m supposed to do … means this wouldn’t be workable for me,” said Dr. John Carlson, a pediatric immunologist at Tulane University.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has long argued against travel restrictions, saying they could hurt the global health community’s effort to tamp down the West Africa outbreak. “It makes it hard to get health workers in, because they can’t get out,” he has said.
An expert who has studied Ebola for more than a decade, Purdue University’s David Sanders, told CNN on Monday that he feels the policy on mandatory quarantines in New York and New Jersey are “largely political” rather than medical fact and that leaders are acting based on the desire to calm a panicked public rather than to do what’s most beneficial.
He noted that it’s curious why other doctors and nurses who have treated Ebola patients have not been quarantined. The associate professor of biological sciences said he felt that quarantining those who return from West Africa after coming into contact with Ebola patients is “excessive.”
He stressed that everyone should keep in mind that unless someone is symptomatic, they cannot transmit the virus.
Christie says he’s not backing down
The CDC sets baseline recommendations. But state and local officials have the prerogative to set tighter policies.
Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, expressed worries about stigmatizing health workers.
In an interview aired Sunday before she traveled to Ebola-affected nations in West Africa, Power told NBC: “We need many more than are going right now. We need to find a way when they come home that they are treated like conquering heroes and not stigmatized for the tremendous work that they’ve done.”
On Sunday, the Pentagon would not say whether it’s willing to still send an active-duty military Ebola response team to states ordering mandatory quarantine for Ebola health care workers.
The 30-person team finishes training Monday and will then be ready for deployment on 72 hours’ notice. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would have to approve any deployment.