Quarantines imposed on travelers coming from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa could discourage American health workers from going there to help fight the epidemic, a senior U.S. medical official said on Sunday, warning such measures were "a little bit draconian."
New York, New Jersey and Illinois imposed 21-day mandatory quarantines in the last two days for anyone arriving with a risk of having contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the three West African countries that have borne the brunt of an epidemic that has killed an estimated 5,000 people.
But critics worry the policies, going beyond federal regulations and intended to ease public concern over the spread of the disease, will just make matters worse.
"I don't want to be directly criticizing the decision that was made, but we have to be careful that there are unintended consequences," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
"The best way to stop this epidemic is to help the people in West Africa; we do that by sending people over there, not only from the U.S.A. but from other places," Fauci told NBC's "Meet the Press."
The quarantines were put into effect after a New York City doctor was diagnosed with the disease on Thursday after coming home from treating patients in Guinea.
A nurse who returned on Friday through New Jersey's Newark airport after working in Sierra Leone with Ebola patients, strongly criticized the quarantine policy on Saturday, describing hours of questioning and then transfer to a hospital isolation tent. She called her treatment a "frenzy of disorganization."
Fauci reiterated what the medical officials have been stressing as Americans worry about Ebola: that it is spread only by contact with bodily fluids of people with symptoms.
"The science tells us that people who are not sick, if you do not come into contact with body fluid, if someone comes back from wherever, Liberia, and they're well, they are no danger to anyone," Fauci said.
But New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, asked to respond to Fauci’s comment that it is not good science to quarantine people who are not symptomatic, said, "I don’t believe that when you’re dealing with something as serious as this that we can count on a voluntary system.”
“This is government’s job. If anything else, the government’s job is to protect the safety and health of our citizens,” he told the "Fox News Sunday" program.
Asked whether the new rules would discourage health workers from going to West Africa, Christie added, “Folks that are willing to take that step and willing to volunteer also understand that it’s in their interest and in the public health’s interest to have a 21-day period thereafter if they’ve been directly exposed to people with the virus.”