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Cuomo, de Blasio announce incentive program for health care workers who go to West Africa

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks as New

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio listens during a press conference on Oct. 26, 2014. Photo Credit: EPA / JASON SZENES

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched an initiative Thursday offering financial incentives and employment protections for local medical personnel traveling to West Africa to aid the Ebola fight at its source.

"We happen to be one of the places where a lot of the great medical talent resides, and so it is incumbent on New York State and New York City to play a leading role in recruiting and supporting the medical professionals going over there," de Blasio said at an unrelated news conference Thursday in Manhattan. "We have to remember: The best way to solve this problem is at the root cause."

The mayor has been critical of the treatment of Kaci Hickox, a nurse who returned from Sierra Leone and tested negative for Ebola, but was quarantined in an isolation tent at University Hospital in Newark until New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie permitted her to return to her home in Maine.

De Blasio has called her a hero who was disrespected, but he has been careful not to slam Cuomo's and Christie's policy of quarantining asymptomatic health care workers who arrived through Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports.

"We are on the same page," de Blasio insisted of his and Cuomo's offices. "We appreciate the state guidelines. We will now align with those guidelines."

The incentives plan came as Dr. Craig Spencer, the Doctors Without Borders volunteer, remained in serious but stable condition at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. Spencer was confined to an isolation unit last week with active Ebola symptoms.

De Blasio spokeswoman Marti Adams Thursday said New York City is currently monitoring 117 people who have not displayed Ebola symptoms, doing so as a precaution and according to CDC guidelines. State or local health authorities establish regular communications with the individuals, rather than relying on them to self-monitor or report symptoms.

Most of the people are travelers who have arrived in the city since Oct. 11 from the three West African countries hardest hit by the current outbreak. Others are Bellevue hospital staff, FDNY, EMS and lab workers who have treated, transported or tested Spencer.

"We believe that public health in West Africa and the public health in New York are interconnected and both must be addressed," Cuomo said in a statement.

Spencer's fiancee and two friends, all confined to their homes but permitted to receive visitors, according to the state's policy, are also on the city's "active monitoring" list.Cuomo had joined Christie in imposing a 21-day quarantine -- at home for those travelers who have come from West Africa but show no symptoms of infection.

Their policy has been criticized by Hickox and national health experts as not based on science.

The focus on volunteers sharpened Thursday when officials in Manhattan for Doctors Without Borders announced they would expand treatment in Liberia to include malaria.

Early symptoms of malaria are identical to Ebola, but the infections are caused by different pathogens. Malaria is mosquito-borne and caused by a protozoan. But it has been difficult in the endemic region -- where the medical system has collapsed -- to distinguish malaria from Ebola.

The officials did not detail how much would be offered to workers who travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea, the three Ebola-endemic countries.

Meanwhile, the 5-year-old Bronx boy who tested negative for Ebola at Bellevue earlier this week was released Thursday after being treated for a respiratory illness, according to Bellevue doctors. He, his mother and a sibling will be "actively monitored" by the city because they recently returned from Guinea, officials said.In a separate announcement Thursday, Cuomo said two hospitals in Erie County and Buffalo had been designated for the treatment of Ebola patients, bringing the state's total to 10 health care facilities. New York City has five hospitals ready to care for Ebola patients, including Bellevue Hospital Center.

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