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Cuomo defends Ebola quarantine policy

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (left) enacted several precautionary measures on Friday to prevent the spread of Ebola.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended his decision to quarantine travelers and health care workers returning from West Africa through New York City airports if they’ve been in contact with Ebola patients.

Cuomo has faced intense criticism since the policy was announced over the weekend, but says he’s doing what he thinks is necessary to keep the public calm and safe.

Cuomo says he did not loosen a quarantine policy Sunday night that was imposed by him and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday, following a weekend of intense criticism from the Obama administration and federal health officials.

There’s also been negative publicity over a nurse who returned from treating Ebola patients, but displayed no symptoms, and was detained against her will in a tent outside a New Jersey hospital. She was released to her home in Maine on Monday afternoon.

“The policy I detailed (Sunday) is the same policy that we outlined on Friday,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo took a shot at the Centers for Disease Control, which has chided Cuomo and Christie over the quarantine. Cuomo says the CDC is recommending a lower standard that sets the minimum precautionary steps to be taken.

“We’re in the middle of the problem, they haven’t even published the protocol,” the governor said.

Cuomo says he knows the CDC thinks he is being too cautious in ordering the quarantine, but says his ultimate goal is to keep the people of New York safe. He says the New York metropolitan area is not like Nebraska or Oklahoma.

Cuomo says if symptoms do appear, it will be much easier to limit the spread to others if the patient has been confined to their home and not out in public, which he says is logistically very difficult to trace.  

Dr. Craig Spencer, who is in Bellevue Hospital with Ebola, traveled to several public places, including a bowling alley, a restaurant and the New York City subway while he was feeling under the weather but had not yet developed a fever, which is considered a sign that a person could infect others. All of the places Spencer visited have now been declared safe.

Cuomo says the state will pay the expenses of anyone forced to stay in their home for three weeks if their employer won’t cover them, and he says it will not be a bad experience for those under the quarantine.

“Enjoy your family, enjoy your kids, enjoy your friends," Cuomo said. “Read my book.”

Cuomo recently published a memoir which has so far sold less than 1,000 copies.

In addition to Spencer, a five-year-old boy from the Bronx who recently traveled to Guinea is in the hospital, after his family said he was sick and had developed a fever.

The governor says state authorities are currently seeking voluntary quarantines for anyone returning from West Africa who has been in contact with Ebola patients.

Cuomo says health workers will visit those quarantined twice a day at unannounced times, and if they find the person is violating the quarantine, it can be enforced by law.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.