By Freeman Klopott, Bloomberg News (TNS)
NEW YORK — Governor Andrew Cuomo will propose a bill of rights for health-care workers and volunteers returning to New York after treating Ebola victims in Africa that’s designed to protect them from housing, credit and other discrimination.
The plan will be part of the fiscal 2016 budget that Cuomo is set to introduce Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the governor’s plan who asked not to be identified. It will also include a measure to cover the costs of lost wages for workers placed in 21-day quarantines, provided they aren’t already receiving help from their sponsoring agency.
Another change would protect the jobs and benefits of those who fight the deadly virus overseas, said the person, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the plan.
The proposals would expand and codify into law policies Cuomo laid out in October after Craig Spencer, a New York City emergency-room doctor who had been treating Ebola in Guinea, was diagnosed with the virus after returning home.
“Public health in West Africa and the public health in New York are interconnected and both must be addressed,” Cuomo, a 57-year-old Democrat, said at the time.
The day before showing symptoms of the disease and being rushed to the hospital, Spencer went bowling, rode the subway and took an Uber car. His pre-symptom movements prompted the administrations of Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s to issue 21-day quarantine orders for anyone who was in the presence of infected people — even if they were wearing protective gear.
U.S. government officials have been struggling to calm fears of contagion while not penalizing aid workers who venture to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which have been at the center of the epidemic.
The deadly scourge began in December 2013 in a remote area of Guinea, near the border with Liberia and Sierra Leone. Since then, Ebola has sickened more than 21,000 people in eight countries and killed 8,468, according to data released by the World Health Organization on Jan. 16.
At the time the governors’ quarantine orders were issued, they differed from those released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which required quarantines only for those exposed to the virus. Ebola is spread only through direct contact with bodily fluids.
Both Cuomo and Christie were criticized by health-care groups and President Barack Obama, who said the governors’ tougher quarantine requirements would discourage aid workers from traveling to the region.
Cuomo said the strict guidelines were warranted for the New York City metro area, where the density of the population and reliance on public transportation could help the disease spread more quickly.
The New York governor, who started his second term Jan. 1, said the protections for aid workers and the salary subsidy for those quarantined would continue to encourage their work abroad.
Bloomberg reporter Jason Gale in Sydney contrinbuted to this report.
Photo: Pat Arnow via Flickr