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New York, New Jersey to automatically quarantine travelers who had contact with Ebola victims in Africa

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan on Thursday night, Oct. 23, 2014. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

New York and New Jersey's governors, imposing a mandatory quarantine on some travelers coming from Ebola-stricken West Africa, said Friday the public health threat is too big to trust in voluntary precautions by people who could be infected with the virus.

A health care worker who worked in that region and landed in Newark Friday became the first person quarantined under the new policy. She initially had no symptoms but last night was hospitalized with a fever, New Jersey health officials said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said New York City's first Ebola patient, Dr. Craig Spencer, who had monitored himself for symptoms since returning from a medical mission to West Africa, didn't strictly isolate himself and avoid public contact.

"He didn't follow the guidelines for the quarantine -- let's be honest," Cuomo said at a news conference in lower Manhattan with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "It's too serious a situation to leave it to the honor system for compliance."

In the six days between his return and starting to run a fever, Spencer rode the subway, took a cab and went bowling. His fiancee and two friends are quarantined.

"Public safety and public health have to be balanced and I think this plan does that," said Cuomo, who has been criticized by Rob Astorino, his Republican re-election rival, for not doing more.

Christie recalled the case two weeks ago of an NBC crew that returned from Liberia after their cameraman got sick with Ebola. New Jersey officials imposed a mandatory quarantine after some of them broke a voluntary 21-day isolation agreement to get takeout food.

"The stakes are just too high to count on people to do it," Christie said.

Screening called inadequate

The governors said current federal screening procedures at Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports, which are run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, were insufficient. "We simply are not satisfied," Christie said.

Dr. Howard Zucker, acting New York State health commissioner, said any arriving medical personnel at the airports who have treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, Guinea or Liberia will be automatically quarantined for 21 days.

Others coming from those countries will be questioned at the airport about contact with Ebola patients and, depending on the information, also could be quarantined, officials said.

The governors said people could be quarantined in their homes or medical facilities.

Feds consider protocol

The governors acted as federal health officials were still considering tougher procedures that might include quarantines.

"That is something that is right now under very active discussion, and you'll be hearing shortly about what the guidelines will be," said Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The federal government is now doing fever checks at five airports. Spencer had no symptoms when he arrived at Kennedy last week.

Astorino, the Westchester County executive, called the increased screening announced yesterday a "half-measure."

"The key and obvious point is that all travelers to those nations could unknowingly have had contact with Ebola virus victims," Astorino said.

With Michael Gormley,

The Associated Press

and Bloomberg News

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