On Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo appeared at a news conference with Mayor de Blasio and their respective health commissioners to share the sobering news that a New York doctor had tested positive for the Ebola virus. A calm factual presentation was made, sharing important information with anxious New Yorkers. The Mayor and the Governor communicated the accurate message that the City and State were doing everything they can to protect the public. They also stressed that that the virus can only be spread by having direct contact of fluids with someone who is displaying the most serious symptoms.
Fast forward one news cycle.
Now we have Governor Cuomo appearing with Governor Christie of New Jersey. Without consulting the NYC Health Director, these two non-medical experts have decided to use their control of the bi-state Port Authority to immediately quarantine anyone who lands at Newark Liberty and Kennedy Airport if the travelers had direct contact with patients with Ebola in Western African.
It is never reassuring to see Cuomo and Christie making a major policy announcement together. These two governors couldn't even prevent their bi-state agency, the Port Authority, from running amok on Bridgegate, so how are they going to make important medical decisions?
Governor Cuomo defended their mandatory quarantine directive by falsely saying: "In a region like this, you go out one, two or three times - you ride the subway, you ride the bus - you could affect hundreds and hundreds of people." Just one day earlier the Governor was part of a news conference that conveyed just the opposite.
What appears to have happened between Thursday and Friday is that political calculations once again trumped science for Cuomo.
And now it appears that Cuomo and Christie exceeded their legal authority to impose a quarantine of individuals not showing any symptoms of being ill.
A major problem is that such actions also deter doctors and medical professionals from helping to curb the epidemic by flying to Africa to treat victims. (The first nurse quarantined under the Cuomo rules, Kaci Hickox, has sharply criticized the policy in the press.)
New York State is presently without a confirmed health commissioner. A commissioner might have advised the Governor against making such wildly irresponsible statements like he did on Friday. Nor did he bother to consult with the well-respected NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett.
Ebola is a deadly disease. Medical experts are the ones who should be making medical decisions. The stakes are higher than who is elected governor. Shame on Andrew Cuomo for playing politics with Ebola.
I support the petition initiated by the Physicians for a National Program calling for responsible federal action to protect Americans from Ebola.
It also should be pointed out the profit motive of drug companies is a major reason why they haven't worked on finding ways to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola. The public should demand that Big Pharma immediately disgorge some of their profits, stop charging Americans the highest prices in the world, and create a fund to pay for research on drugs that can curb the spread of infectious diseases.
It is time to demand the socialization of pharmaceutical research and production. A publicly owned drug research and production utility, operating at cost for public benefit instead of private profit, would use high revenues from drugs that are taken daily or frequently in order to subsidize research and production of low-revenue drugs like vaccines for Ebola, malaria, and other infectious diseases that are used once. A public drug research and production industry would save millions of lives around the world.