'No Second Thoughts' About an Ebola Quarantine in New Jersey

Governor Chris Christie pushes back after a nurse says she was treated like "a criminal."

Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Updated 4:33 p.m.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Sunday defended his Ebola quarantine policy, dismissing complaints from a nurse quarantined under the policy, as well as worries that the approach would deter American health workers from traveling overseas to tackle the virus—a stance that has drawn the attention of the White House and could bring legal action against the state.

"The government's job is to protect safety and health of our citizens," Christie said on Fox News Sunday. "I have no second thoughts about it."

"I think this is a policy that will become a national policy sooner rather than later," the Republican governor said of the mandatory 21-day quarantine policy for health workers returning from countries where populations are living with the Ebola crisis. New York, Illinois and Florida have also put the policy in place.

However, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also appearing on Fox News Sunday, indicated that that wouldn't be the case anytime soon.  According to Fauci, the science doesn't support the mandatory quarantining policy and adopting it would likely have "unintended consequences."

"Guidelines regarding how you handle people from coming back should always be based on the science, and the science tells us that people who are asymptomatic do not transmit," said Fauci. He added: "There are other steps that you can [take to] protect American people based on the scientific evidence that does not necessarily go so far as to possibly have unintended consequences of disincentivizing health care workers. The best way to protect us is to stop the epidemic in Africa, and we need those health care workers."

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, backed up Fauci's assertion, saying on NBC's "Meet the Press," "All of us need to make clear what these health workers mean to us and how much we value their services, how much we value their contribution." She added: "We need to make sure they are treated like conquering heroes."

Criticism of the quarantine policy started when Kaci Hickox, a nurse placed under mandatory quarantine in New Jersey, slammed the "knee-jerk reaction by politicians" and the policy over how she has been treated during that time in an opinion piece for the Dallas Morning News. On Sunday, she reiterated her position, saying on CNN's "State of the Union," "This is an extreme that is really unacceptable, and I feel like my basic human rights have been violated."

Even though Hickox has tested negative twice for Ebola and is displaying no symptoms, Christie had described Hickox as "obviously ill."

"I'm sorry, but that's just a completely unacceptable statement in my opinion. For him—a politician who's trusted and respected—to make a statement that's categorically not true is just unacceptable and appalling," Hickox told CNN, in a separate interview.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the Obama administration has been privately attempting to convince the governors to reverse the mandatory quarantine policy decision. One administration official called it "uncoordinated, very hurried, an immediate reaction to the New York City case that doesn’t comport with science."

Later Sunday, J. David Goodman of The New York Times reported that Hickox has hired Norman Siegel, an attorney who specializes in civil and human rights cases involving the government.