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Experts Question Need For Mandatory Ebola Quarantines

Updated 10/27/14 - 5:07 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A rift has been growing between politicians and physicians about who should call the shots when it comes to protecting the public from Ebola in the United States.

CBS 2's Dana Kozlov reports, just days after Illinois became one of three states calling for a mandatory 21-day quarantine for returning health care workers at risk for the disease, some experts suggested it might be too much.

National health experts have suggested mandatory quarantines are unnecessary, and could limit medical workers' ability to help fight the spread of Ebola.

"What we still need are the resources, the funding, so that we can be better prepared," said Dr. Daniel Bachmann, an ER doctor in Ohio.

As far as we know, no at-risk healthcare worker in Illinois has been quarantined since Gov. Pat Quinn announced new guidelines late last week. The governor has ordered the Illinois Department of Public Health to require a mandatory 21-day in-home quarantine for any "high-risk" individuals who have had direct contact with anyone infected with Ebola while in West Africa.

New York and New Jersey have imposed similar quarantine requirements.

On Monday, more than 6,000 emergency room doctors were gathering at McCormick Place for the annual American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) Scientific Assembly. Their agenda includes a discussion on how ER doctors across the nation should uniformly handle suspected cases of Ebola.

The conference comes as the new guidelines for ER doctors were introduced. CBS 2's Dorothy Tucker reports the new guide lines were introduced to protect doctors, other health care workers and patients. At the top of the list all patients will be asked about their travel history.

The guide lines include wearing protective gear, but also recommend limiting the number of health care workers who treat Ebola patients.

"Maybe just one nurse and one doctor so you don't have every staff member exposed. Dr. Rade Vukmir with the American College of Emergency Physicians

The recommendations were developed after reviewing Ebola cases and listening to the personal experiences of health care workers. So now there is an increased focus on the equipment used to draw blood

"Every circuit is double checked to make sure that there are no lose connections that might allow blood to spill into the room," said Dr. Vukmir.

The CDC also issued an update on its recommendations today. They're asking health care workers returning from the so-called "danger zones" to voluntarily stay home for 21 days and avoid mingling with large groups of people.

At the conference, a CDC consultant and doctor from Emory University will discuss what he learned in helping to successfully treat infected patients who were transferred to his Atlanta hospital.

Dr. David Pigott is an Ebola expert who will also deliver a presentation on the outbreak. He was asked about the mandatory involuntary quarantining of healthcare workers who returned from Ebola hot zones.

"What we recommend for physicians, or rather aid workers who have recently returned from Africa, is that they perform voluntary twice-daily temperatures at home, not a mandatory quarantine," he said.

Dr. Mathew Bitner, who is chairing the ACEP conference, said "I think it's important to know that emergency physicians are talking about it."

It's a timely discussion, especially considering the controversy surrounding the mandatory quarantine of nurse Kaci Hickox in New Jersey. She was forced into isolation after working with Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. Hickox has called her quarantine inhumane, pointing out she's tested negative for the disease.

"When you put everyone in the same basket, that's the thing that we're concerned about," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "The best way to protect Americans is to stop the epidemic in Africa, and we need those health care workers to do that."

Fauci wasn't the only physician expressing doubt about mandatory quarantines for people considered at high risk for Ebola.

"The quarantine is one way to deal with an epidemic. It's one way to deal with any epidemic," said Dr. Daniel Bachmann. But he said it might not be the best way to deal with the threat of Ebola in the U.S.

The White House also has pushed back against the quarantines imposed Illinois, New York, and New Jersey; after President Barack Obama called a meeting of his public health and national security experts working on the Ebola crisis.

"We have let the governors of New York, New Jersey, and others states know that we have concerns with the unintended consequences of policies not grounded in science may have on efforts to combat Ebola at its source in West Africa," a senior administration official said in a statement.

Experts have said the most important thing now is getting doctors on the same page when it comes to handling Ebola concerns.

"When you're tasked as the physician on-hand to draft the policy for how we care for Ebola patients in the emergency departments in your local community, you obviously turn to the national resources, and that's what ACEP's trying to provide," Bitner said.

During this week's conference at McCormick Place, ACEP planned to offer three major courses on Ebola treatment and prevention.

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