CHICAGO – Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois health officials took pains Monday to distinguish the state's approach to Ebola from that of New York or New Jersey, where governors came under fire for ordering mandatory quarantines for health workers who helped fight the epidemic in West Africa.
The Illinois officials stressed that the state's mandatory quarantine – if it were ever enforced – would take place at the person's home and contended it is based on the best medical science. Illinois has no confirmed Ebola cases and nobody is in quarantine.
Quinn said Monday that anyone quarantined should be able to remain home where they'll be more comfortable while monitoring their health, but they would be forced to stay there. "In the interest of the public and public health, it will be mandatory," Quinn said. "We have to be on our toes."
Quinn, a Democrat, is in the midst of a tough re-election campaign. Republican challenger Bruce Rauner said Monday he agrees with Quinn on mandatory quarantines for some travelers. Rauner's office said he supports more severe measures, too, such as a visa and travel ban on those wanting to travel to the United States from Ebola-affected countries. Quinn opposes a travel ban.
The governor's office had announced a mandatory at-home quarantine late Friday without much detail. By Monday, state health officials were clarifying that few travelers will fit the "high risk" criteria triggering a mandatory quarantine in Illinois. For example, it wouldn't be used for medical workers if they wore appropriate personal protective gear while treating Ebola patients in West Africa and had no symptoms.
Mandatory quarantines were announced by a handful of states after Dr. Craig Spencer, a New Yorker who had treated Ebola patients in Guinea, rode the city's subway, went bowling and ate at a restaurant before he became feverish and tested positive for Ebola.
In New Jersey, a nurse who worked in West Africa with Ebola patients was released Monday afternoon after being quarantined through the weekend in a hospital isolation tent. The nurse, Kaci Hickox, complained about her treatment after she became the first person forced into that state's mandatory quarantine. Hickox has no symptoms.
Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with body fluids of a person who has disease symptoms.
"There's not any logic to isolating individuals who are at no risk for spreading infection," said Dr. Stephen Weber of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, a group opposed to mandatory quarantines for Ebola caregivers without symptoms. Experts say such policies could discourage workers from fighting the worst Ebola outbreak in history in West Africa.
The Illinois policy, in contrast to New Jersey's, is "more aligned with the science," said Weber, an infectious disease expert at University of Chicago Medicine. He was recently named to an Illinois task force on Ebola, but wasn't involved in writing the state's quarantine protocols.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director LaMar Hasbrouck said the state's approach strikes the "right balance" by enforcing a home quarantine only for the highest-risk cases. Illinois wasn't directly influenced by Spencer, Hasbrouck said, but that case "played into the urgency" for a public announcement.
Guidance for local health department officials sent early Friday was much more detailed than the public announcement. The guidance, reviewed by The Associated Press, outlines four levels of risk, with mandatory quarantine only for health workers who report they touched blood or body fluids of Ebola patients without wearing the appropriate protective gear.
Mandatory quarantine in Illinois would also be ordered for travelers who shared a home with an Ebola patient and people who had direct contact with a dead body without wearing protective gear in an outbreak country.