November 3, 2014 / 11:55 PM / in 3 years

Americans strongly back quarantine for returning Ebola health workers

4 Min Read

Passengers make their way through a security checkpoint at JFK International Airport in New York in this file photo taken October 11, 2014.Eduardo Munoz/Files

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nearly 75 percent of Americans surveyed in a Reuters/Ipsos poll believe medics returning to the United States after treating people with Ebola should be quarantined, and 80 percent believe the healthcare workers' movements should be controlled.

The findings show broad support for the type of controversial new screening rules announced by the governors of New York and New Jersey for people arriving at New York City's international airports from the three West African countries where the virus has killed nearly 5,000 people.

Under the rules, state health officials are ordering anyone who has had direct contact with Ebola into a mandatory quarantine of up to 21 days, at home in some cases, even if they have no symptoms.

A quarter of poll respondents thought quarantines were unnecessary for healthcare workers, and about one in six respondents thought such workers should neither monitor their health themselves nor be actively monitored by officials.

The poll, which was conducted online with 1,681 people who chose to participate between Oct. 30 and Nov. 3, did not ask whether quarantines should be mandatory or voluntary. Respondents were asked specifically whether health workers returning from West African countries with Ebola should have their travel and movements controlled.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration and many public-health experts have criticized mandatory quarantines, saying they are unhelpful because a person without symptoms cannot spread the virus.

A U.S. Coast Guard Corpsman working with the Office of Field Operations checks the temperature of a traveler who has recently traveled to either Guinea, Sierra Leone, or Liberia in this handout picture from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection taken at Washington Dulles International Airport October 16, 2014.U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Josh Denmark/Handout via Reuters

Only one person is known to have been ordered into quarantine under the new state rules, an American nurse named Kaci Hickox who arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport shortly before the rules were announced on Friday, Oct. 24.

Hickox, who had been working with Doctors Without Borders helping Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, was confined to a tent at a local hospital for several days and repeatedly decried her imprisonment. New Jersey officials handed her over to state officials in Maine who tried to confine her to her home before a state judge ruled that a quarantine was unnecessary on Friday. The state and the nurse reached a deal on Monday, allowing her to travel freely and requiring her to monitor her health.

U.S. Coast Guard Health Technician Nathan Wallenmeyer (L) and Customs Border Protection (CBP) Supervisor Sam Ko conduct prescreening measures on a passenger arriving from Sierra Leone at O?Hare International Airport's Terminal 5 in Chicago, in this handout picture taken October 16, 2014.U.S. Customs Border Protection/Melissa Maraj/Handout via Reuters

Doctors Without Borders said last week that some American workers were delaying their return to the United States after working in West Africa and staying in Europe for 21 days, the virus's maximum incubation period.

The poll found broad support for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's less stringent guidelines for returning medics, which in most cases require only that local health departments call daily to check on their health.

Nearly 82 percent of respondents thought any travelers who have recently been in Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia should be actively monitored by officials, and 85 percent thought this should apply to returning medics.

The poll has a credibility interval, which is a measure used to indicate the accuracy of an opt-in online poll, of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Peter Henderson

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