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Cuomo defends Ebola quarantine policy; stricken doctor's fiancee goes home

A taxi passes in front of Bellevue Hospital

A taxi passes in front of Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan where Dr. Craig Spencer, who was diagnosed with Ebola, remains in quarantine, on Oct. 25, 2014. Credit: Getty Images / Kena Betancur

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo defended his order to quarantine some travelers returning from West Africa on Saturday as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio worried it could discourage aid workers from helping Ebola-ravaged countries, and a nurse forced into medical isolation in New Jersey protested bitterly.

The policy was imposed one day after Dr. Craig Spencer, who recently worked in Guinea for Doctors Without Borders, became the first person in New York and fourth in the nation to be diagnosed with Ebola.

Spencer, 33, remained in a special isolation ward at Bellevue Hospital Center on Saturday, listed in stable condition. City officials said he was receiving antiviral drugs and has received the same plasma treatments that were used for a Dallas nurse treated for Ebola in Atlanta and an NBC cameraman who was cared for in Omaha.

"The next few days will be tough for Dr. Spencer . . . his situation will be worse before it gets better," de Blasio said. City health officials said Spencer, brought to the hospital with a fever, is suffering gastrointestinal symptoms.


Fiancee, friends stay home

Spencer's fiancee, Morgan Dixon, went home from the hospital last night, declining to speak to reporters as she walked into the West Harlem building where they live. She will be on home quarantine until Nov. 14.

While pronounced healthy, "she will not be leaving the apartment," said Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control. She can get deliveries but "is not allowed to receive visitors" other than health workers, he said.

Two friends of Spencer who had close contact with him also are on home quarantine, city officials said. None have shown symptoms, said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett.

With no new reports of people who may be at risk, debate continued over the quarantine orders at Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports.

"I think it's a fair concern," de Blasio said when asked whether the orders might deter health workers from going to West Africa. The mayor said he was not consulted before Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced it Friday. He would not say whether he supports the policy.

"We understand in a fast-moving situation sometimes there will be moments where the communication isn't what we want it to be," the mayor said.


Forced into quarantine

Some of the strongest criticism came from a Doctors Without Borders nurse forced into quarantine Friday after arriving in Newark.

Kaci Hickox, 33, who worked with Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, said in a story published on The Dallas Morning News website that she is "scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa" and "scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine."

Hickox said she has no symptoms. She said a reading from a forehead thermometer showing a brief fever Friday night was inaccurate because her face was flushed from anxiety.

Asked about her complaints during a campaign stop Saturday, Cuomo said: "This is an evolving process for everybody. This is a learning process. None of this is pleasant." Christie's office had no comment.


Monitoring other travelers

Officials Saturday also announced that the city health department will be monitoring anyone who, like Spencer, returned to the United States from Ebola-stricken countries on Oct. 11 or later.

Cuomo seemed to criticize Spencer on Friday, saying the physician had not strictly followed self-isolation guidelines upon returning from Guinea.

De Blasio on Saturday defended Spencer, an emergency doctor with New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

"Here is a doctor who volunteered to go into what is the medical equivalent of a war zone," de Blasio said. "This is no different than a soldier who goes into battle to protect us."

Cuomo agreed Spencer was a "hero" for his work abroad and brushed aside questions about whether his quarantine order was an overreaction. The governor said a little anxiety "is a good thing" in dealing with something like Ebola. He estimated that about 30 people, including doctors and nurses, arrive in the New York area from West Africa each day.

"We have this under control," the governor said. "We will deal with this and we will be fine."



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