Quarantines imposed on travelers from Ebola-affected West African nations are a "little bit draconian," a senior U.S. health official said on Sunday, warning new rules by three states could discourage medical workers from helping fight the epidemic.
New York, New Jersey and Illinois imposed 21-day mandatory quarantines in the last two days for anyone arriving with a high risk of having contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea - the three African countries where the epidemic has killed nearly 5,000 people.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who announced the new policy on Friday, are already under pressure from the White House to reverse the directives, the New York Times reported on Sunday afternoon.
The quarantine rules are an "uncoordinated, very hurried, an immediate reaction to the New York City case that doesn't comport with science," an unnamed administration official told the Times.
The source was referring to Dr. Craig Spencer, who was diagnosed with Ebola after he returned from treating patients in Guinea. The doctor, now in isolation, moved freely around the city before he had symptoms. Doctors say he was not contagious at that stage but his actions have raised public concern.
"I don't want to be directly criticizing the decision that was made but we have to be careful that there are unintended consequences," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC's "Meet the Press" television program.
He called the measures, which go well beyond federal guidelines, "a little bit draconian."
"The best way to stop this epidemic is to help the people in West Africa. We do that by sending people over there, not only from the U.S.A. but from other places," said Fauci.
The first person isolated under the new orders was a nurse who arrived on Friday at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey after working in Sierra Leone with Ebola patients.
The nurse, Kaci Hickox, strongly criticized the quarantine policy, describing hours of questioning and being transferred to a hospital isolation tent. On Sunday, she told CNN she failed to understand the rationale for the policy.
She was particularly scathing about Christie's remarks that she was "obviously ill" when she arrived at Newark airport.
"First of all I don't think he's a doctor and secondly he's never laid eyes on me," she said. "I am completely healthy and with no symptoms," Hickox told CNN.
Fauci reiterated that Ebola is extremely difficult to catch. It is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person and is not transmitted by people who are not showing symptoms.
But Christie defended his approach.
?This is government?s job. If anything else, the government?s job is to protect the safety and health of our citizens,? he told the "Fox News Sunday" television program.
The virus has killed almost half of more than 10,000 people diagnosed with the disease - predominantly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.