BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | Leading AIDS activists are protesting Governor Andrew Cuomo for ordering quarantine for people returning to the US from West Africa after having close contact with someone who has Ebola there.
“There is no science to support the idea that a person should be quarantined before they are symptomatic,” said Charles King, the chief executive officer at Housing Works, an AIDS group, at an October 27 press conference outside Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. Dr. Craig Spencer, the city’s one Ebola case, is in isolation at Bellevue.
On October 24, Cuomo joined New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to announce that anyone who was entering the US through a New York or New Jersey airport coming from any of the West African nations currently enduring an Ebola outbreak and who had had close contact with Ebola patients would be subject to a 21-day quarantine.
The order was quickly implemented with the detention of Kaci Hickox, a nurse who treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone and was returning to the US through New Jersey. Hickox was detained at a Newark hospital on October 24. The order was just as quickly undone as the outcry against the quarantine grew over the weekend.
After testing, it was determined that Hickox was not infected with the virus and she was released from quarantine on October 27. Cuomo announced that any quarantined person could spend the 21 days in their home.
People with Ebola are only infectious when they have symptoms, such as fever, and close contact is required to transmit the virus. Ebola is most commonly transmitted in hospitals and clinics among people who have frequent contact with the bodily fluids of Ebola patients. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend quarantine for people who have worked with Ebola patients.
The AIDS activists, including Peter Staley, Jennifer Flynn, executive director of VOCAL-NY, Guillermo Chacon, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS, and Kelsey Louie, chief executive officer at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, took advantage of the large media presence outside Bellevue and held an hour-long press conference there denouncing the quarantine. Staley noted that Ebola was first identified in 1976 and that there have been 24 outbreaks of the virus since then.
“Nothing about this outbreak has disproven the knowledge that we have from those outbreaks,” Staley said.
The activists also circulated a letter that garnered more than 100 signatories in less than 72 hours and included some leading AIDS activists and experts on public health from around the nation. They had a meeting with senior Cuomo administration staff just prior to the press conference.
Notably, a number of the signatories are also members of a Cuomo-appointed task force that will develop a plan to end AIDS in New York by 2020. King, who co-chairs the task force, did not think that the disagreement over quarantine would affect the work of the task force.
“We anticipate that we will continue to work closely on the task force,” he said. “We don’t mean to make this adversarial, but we want the very best public health practices.”