The Blundering Rise And Epic Fall Of The Christie-Cuomo Ebola Quarantine

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, left, talks with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during memorial observances on the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Thursday,... New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, left, talks with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during memorial observances on the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. Family and friends of those who died read the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in New York, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, Pool) MORE LESS
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If anything is clear from the reporting of the nurse who was quarantined in a New Jersey hospital over Ebola fears, it’s that the actual quarantine itself was handled miserably.

Nurse Kaci Hickox, who returned to the U.S. via Newark airport Friday after treating Ebola patients for Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone, described her treatment as “a frenzy of disorganization.” She was so flustered that a forehead reading showed her with a fever — which was then used as reason to quarantine her. Later, they took her temperature again and no fever registered. She was kept in quarantine anyway.

Further reported details of Hickox’s predicament made clear that, although New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were anxious to show resolve and order the quarantine, their local health officials weren’t ready to carry out the order in any way that resembled humane treatment.

According to CNN, Hickox was placed in a tent inside the isolation ward at University Hospital in Newark almost simultaneously to the quarantine policy being put in effect. She was not allowed to take her luggage with her into quarantine and was forced to wear paper scrubs. She had no shower or flushable toilet — she also lacked any form of entertainment, no television and no reading materials. She had to speak with her lawyers through a narrow window in the tent.

She said she mostly spent her time staring at walls — until she started to take her story national in a first-person narrative for the Dallas Morning News and in her Sunday interview with CNN.

Almost as soon as these details started to leak, the hospital appeared to scramble to set right what was quickly becoming a public relations disaster. That in turn is emblematic of the entire episode, in which what was seen as a political sure thing faced a harsh backlash and eventual capitulation.

“The patient has computer access, use of her cell phone, reading material (magazines, newspaper) and requested and has received take-out food and drink,” the university said in an update as reports of the quarantine’s conditions spread, per CNN.

Christie and Cuomo announced the quarantine policy late on Friday and it was effectively undone by Monday morning. First, they apparently failed to notify any of the local authorities involved. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that neither he nor his health department were consulted about the quarantine. Nor did the state authorities confer with the White House.

According to the New York Times, city officials found out at the same time as the general public:

City officials, who were not consulted on the two governors’ decision, learned of it as the public did. A room-to-room scramble began at City Hall: Who, senior aides asked, had been briefed about this? The answer was no one.

The efficacy of the quarantine was questioned by New York City Health Commissioner Mary Basset, according to the New York Daily News. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, made the rounds on the Sunday morning shows and criticized the policies.

“I don’t want to be directly criticizing the decision that was made. But we have to be careful that there aren’t unintended consequences,” he said on Meet The Press. “We need to treat them, returning people, with respect, and make sure that they’re really heroes. So the idea that we’re being a little bit draconian, there are other ways to protect.”

At first, Christie in particular was defiant. He said Sunday morning that he had “no second thoughts” about instituting the quarantine. But that confidence lasted just 24 hours more.

By Sunday evening, Cuomo was revising his quarantine policy, per the New York Times, ordering that patients could spend their time at home. By Monday morning, with everybody from the White House to almost any medical authority who had spoken publicly on the issue urging a more restrained response, Christie said that Hickox could spend the remainder of her 21 days at home.

Christie’s office did what it could to save face after that announcement, but the speed of the reversal crystallized what had really been clear from the beginning: This whole thing had been botched.

Christie went so far as to insist that no policy reversal had been made and reiterated his prior statement that Hickox had at one point been symptomatic. “I didn’t reverse any decision,” he told reporters Monday.

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