US President Barack Obama has said that the United States can’t be seen as shying away from battle against Ebola and must support healthcare workers who are returning from the front lines in Africa.
Obama on Tuesday did not directly criticise quarantine policies for returning healthcare workers implemented in the states of New York and New Jersey, but he said monitoring of those who come back from the fight needs to be prudent and “based in science”.
On Monday, US health authorities advised that doctors and nurses returning from West Africa need not be mandatorily quarantined, but required to be monitored. States in the US, however, remain free to place health workers in forced isolation as a pre-emptive strategy.
“We don’t want to discourage our healthcare workers from going to the frontlines and dealing with this in an effective way,” Obama said.
Obama said a robust response in Africa will stop the spread of the disease in the United States. He reminded Americans only two people have contracted the disease in the US and both are now disease-free.
The president spoke to reporters from the White House after a phone call with one of those patients, nurse Amber Vinson, just after her release from the hospital. He also called a USAID team deployed to West Africa and said he planned to meet on Wednesday with public health workers who had been to West Africa or were planning to go there to fight the outbreak.
“America cannot look like it is shying away because other people are watching what we do,” Obama said. “If we don’t have robust international response in West Africa, then we are actually endangering ourselves here back home. In order to do that, we’ve got to make sure that those workers who are willing and able and dedicated to go over there in a really tough job, that they’re applauded, thanked and supported. That should be our priority. And we can make sure that when they come back they are being monitored in a prudent fashion.”
A hodgepodge of state policies, some of which directly contradict Obama’s recommendations, has sowed confusion about what’s needed to stop Ebola from spreading in the United States. While public health advocates denounce state quarantines as draconian and scientifically baseless, anxious citizens in non-quarantine states are asking whether they’re at greater risk because their governors and the president have adopted a lesser level of caution.