On Saturday I found myself in the unusual position of praising New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, as he took the bold step of joining with Chris Christie and imposing more sensible travel restrictions on those coming to the United States from Ebola stricken nations via JFK and Newark. For a governor with such a horrible record on so many issues, it was a refreshing and shocking change to be able to point out something both brave and reasonable as the elected executive of the Empire State. Well.. that lasted for less than two days.
Facing fierce resistance from the White House and medical experts to a strict new mandatory quarantine policy, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Sunday night that medical workers who had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa but did not show symptoms of the disease would be allowed to remain at home and would receive compensation for lost income.
Mr. Cuomo’s decision capped a frenzied weekend of behind-the-scenes pleas from administration officials, who urged him and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey to reconsider the mandatory quarantine they had announced on Friday. Aides to President Obama also asked other governors and mayors to follow a policy based on science, seeking to stem a steady movement toward more stringent measures in recent days at the state level.
This wasn’t a complete reversal, but given how the optics of this played out it was immediately obvious that Obama administration officials and their surrogates in the media had gotten to Cuomo. If these changes had simply been pitched as modifications to the policy after observing how it played out during the initial deployment he wouldn’t have looked like such a pawn on the political chessboard.
It’s not that some changes couldn’t be put in. In both states, the implementation was flawed by way of being hastily thrown together and insensitive to the emotional support for American doctors and nurses who risk their lives to help others. Leaving one of them stuffed in a tent with a portable toilet for hours on end was a disaster waiting to implode, though it’s understandable that it happened given how fast it was rolled out. The quarantine needs to be in effect, but given the hero-like status attached to these healthcare workers, their care and feeding during isolation has to be handled better. I heard one opinionator on cable this weekend suggesting that both governors should assign an isolated wing of a luxury hotel for them to stay at with the state picking up the bill. But if these health care workers are so devoted to humanity that this is how they spend their lives, you’d think that they would be sensitive to protecting people at home as well and going along with a quarantine rather than suing those charged with protecting Americans.
Having them stay at home is doable, but only if we have confidence that they actually will stay at home, rather than going out bowling, playing basketball and riding the subway. That will require monitoring, but the monitors need to look like bellhops more than prison bulls. It’s a tricky situation to be sure, but it could be handled. Sadly, it seems that Cuomo has left Christie hanging in the wind and will – as predicted – bend in the direction of Washington.