WASHINGTON — The U.S. government on Monday tried to take charge of an increasingly acrimonious national debate over how to treat people in contact with Ebola patients by announcing guidelines that stopped short of tough measures in New York and New Jersey and were carefully devised, officials said, not to harm the effort to recruit badly needed medical workers to West Africa.
But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey denounced the guidelines as unsafe for the people of their states, and the Pentagon appeared to be charting an entirely different course as well. Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, ordered a 21-day “controlled monitoring period” that could isolate hundreds of troops on their U.S. bases, away from their families, when they return from the Ebola zone in West Africa.
The new policy by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, worked out by President Barack Obama, top CDC officials and others during a 2-hour meeting at the White House on Sunday, requires people who have been in contact with Ebola patients to submit to an in-person checkup and a phone call from a local public health authority.
But unlike in New York and New Jersey, people would not be automatically confined to their homes, a requirement that public health experts had sharply criticized as too onerous.
On Monday Christie accused the CDC of “being behind on this” and said demands from the public to protect citizens prompted the tougher action in his state.
“What people of this country want is for us to protect, first and foremost, the public safety and public health of our citizens,” Christie said. But he agreed to release a nurse who had been quarantined in a tent at a hospital so she could travel to Maine, where she lives.
Cuomo was already criticizing the new guidelines ahead of their formal announcement.
“I work with the federal government, but I disagree with the CDC,” the governor told reporters Monday. “My No. 1 job is to protect the people of the state of New York, and do what I think is prudent to protect the people of the state of New York.”
Later in the day in New York, a 5-year-old boy who recently traveled from the West African nation of Guinea tested negative for Ebola after he was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center with symptoms consistent with the virus.
And in Baltimore, a potential Ebola patient was placed in isolation at the University of Maryland Medical Center, the hospital said in a statement Monday night. No other details were released.
The long-awaited federal guidelines were an effort to bring uniformity to a messy patchwork of responses by states, including Florida, Illinois and, most recently, Georgia, which have all announced tougher policies. But the CDC does not have the power to police internal public health matters, so it is up to the states to carry out the policy, and it is far from clear that they will fall in line.