Gov. Quinn changes mandatory quarantine order to apply ‘high-risk’ individuals

By Courtney Dillard

All individuals deemed "high-risk" who fly through Chicago's O'Hare International Airport must submit to a 21-day mandatory quarantine. Photo courtesy of Mark Brennan.
All individuals deemed “high-risk” who fly through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport must submit to a 21-day mandatory quarantine. Photo courtesy of Mark Brennan.

Gov. Pat Quinn took last week’s debacle in New Jersey as an opportunity to clarify the state’s new quarantine regulations. Following a backlash from medical professionals toward New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s mandatory quarantine of international medical worker Kaci Hickox, Quinn stated Monday that only individuals deemed “high-risk” would be subject to the a mandatory home quarantine. Originally Quinn said that all individuals who had direct contact with an Ebola patient would be subject to the mandatory quarantine.

Under Quinn’s most recent order, “high-risk” individuals would have to stay at home and receive temperature screenings for 21 days, the duration of the Ebola virus’s incubation period.

In New Jersey last week, Hickox threatened to sue after she was quarantined involuntarily in a tent at University Hospital in Newark upon returning from Sierra Leone Friday. She tested negative for Ebola on Saturday. Christie originally issued a 21-day quarantine for Hickox, but he reversed his stance and allowed her to return to her home in Maine Monday, after she showed no signs of Ebola for 24 hours.

Christie defended his decision to quarantine Hickox in a news conference Sunday. “We need to protect the public safety of the folks in the most densely populated area in the country,” he said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health, in a news release Monday, said in this state “high-risk” individual refers to anyone who had unprotected contact or made direct skin contact with infectious blood or body fluids of an Ebola patient without the appropriate protective equipment. Anyone who lived with an Ebola patient in an outbreak-affected country is also subject to these quarantine procedures.

These guidelines mirror those from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which were also released Monday.

The quarantine policies in New York and New Jersey go further than the policy in Illinois. They require three-week quarantines for anyone who treated Ebola patients in West Africa, not just those who fall into the CDC’s high-risk category.

The question remains whether or not these states should follow CDC protocol directly. Dr. Tom Friedan, CDC director, confirmed that it is a state’s choice to decide how to handle perceived threats to its citizens.

“We find that state health departments generally do follow CDC guidelines,” said Friedan. “If they wish to be more stringent than what CDC recommends, that’s within their authority and the system of government that we have. We believe these are based on science.”

New York, New Jersey and Illinois were the first three states to issue some form of mandatory quarantine. Other states, including Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, have issued their own policies, all of which extend beyond the CDC’s guidelines.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal stated Monday that all travelers with known direct exposure to an Ebola patient would be quarantined at a designated facility.

In Virginia and Maryland, all travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three West African nations where the epidemic is widespread, will be monitored daily for a three-week period.

The stricter quarantine policies are happening in cities with the five major U.S. airports that receive travelers from the three affected nations.

Recently the Department of Homeland Security mandated that the 150 people that come to the U.S. daily from those three countries must fly through one of the five major airports that have instituted temperature screenings: John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Liberty International Airport in Newark, Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and Washington-Dulles International Airport.

Though the main concern is protecting citizens from exposure to Ebola, Illinois health officials said they do not want to deter health care workers from fighting the epidemic at its source.

“The only way to reduce the risk of Ebola infections in the U.S. to zero is to extinguish the outbreak in West Africa,” said Dr. Lamar Hasbrouck, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health in a news release Monday. “We gratefully acknowledge that U.S. health care workers are critical to that effort.”

To check out the quarantine policies in other major U.S. cities, click here.