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Reports: CDC mulling Ebola quarantines

The Obama administration may soon require medical workers who treat Ebola overseas to be quarantined upon arriving in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began discussing a quarantine, among other policy options, late Thursday, a spokesman told Reuters. The talks began shortly after Craig Spencer, an Ebola doctor from New York City, was diagnosed with the country's fourth case of Ebola.

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday morning that the administration was considering taking the step of quarantines.

“It is one of the questions the federal government is thinking through,” Cuomo said in an interview with Fox affiliate “Good Day New York.”

The governor has spoken with President Obama, CDC head Dr. Tom Frieden and the government’s Ebola czar, Ron Klain.

Under current CDC protocols, medical workers who return from West Africa are not quarantined unless they have reported symptoms. Each person is advised to monitor their temperature daily and immediately report if they are feeling ill.

Spencer, who had returned from Guinea one week before displaying symptoms, checked himself into a nearby hospital as soon as he noticed a fever. In between that time, he had left his apartment numerous times, using the subway and a taxi.

Three people in New York are now quarantined because of their potential contact with Spencer, though health officials say none have reported symptoms. 

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) have already argued that the protocols for returning health workers are too lax. Murphy said late Thursday that anyone returning from the area should face a 21-day mandatory quarantine.

The Obama administration recently announced that every person who returns from West Africa — including medical workers and journalists — will have to self-report their temperature for 21 days. They are not required to self-isolate during that time.  

The White House, however, pushed back on the idea of a mandatory quarantine as recently as Friday afternoon.

The issue of a quarantine was a central focus of Friday’s four-hour hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Out of the nearly two-dozen lawmakers who attended, a majority called for stronger protocols for potentially exposed travelers — including doctors.

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Elijiah Cummings (D-Md.), later told reporters that he would consider the proposal.

“I want us to do whatever is necessary to make sure that our people are safe,” Cummings said. “If there are areas where I think we can more effective and efficient, then we need to take a look at those.”

Some humanitarian aid groups already ask their staff to quarantine themselves after returning from West Africa. Under CDC policy, they would not need to isolate themselves, which Samaritan’s Purse vice president Ken Isaacs has said sends a signal that they “can live a normal life.”

“I don’t think that’s safe. Samaritan's Purse doesn't think that’s safe,” Isaacs told The Hill last week.

— This post was updated at 3:34 p.m.