BALTIMORE — Anyone in Maryland considered to have high-risk exposure to the Ebola virus will be required to stay home until they are confirmed to be Ebola-free, under a plan to monitor people who have come from three West African countries, state officials said Monday.
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland's health secretary, said the plan isn't as restrictive as one criticized in New York and New Jersey, where a nurse was quarantined at a medical facility over the weekend. Maryland health officials will be able to order a high-risk person to stay home, if necessary.
"I think that our approach is we want people to stay at home," Sharfstein said after a news conference in Baltimore. "We will make sure they stay at home, but that they'll want to stay at home also, we think, and so we'll have an agreement with them, but if there's any concern we can use an order, too."
Maryland will have access to a log of travelers kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to identify travelers living in Maryland.
"This is a new initiative in the sense that we're getting a list of everyone for the first time so that we can follow them, but we have been following people for a couple of months as we've known about them," Sharfstein said.
The Maryland plan outlines three categories for travelers and health workers who have been in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. High-risk travelers are those who have had known exposure to Ebola-containing bodily fluids without protection. They will be required to stay home for 21 days. They also will have their temperature taken four times a day, Sharfstein said. In addition, they will be required to report all symptoms and have daily contact with health officials, including in-person assessment.
People considered to be at some risk — that is, they have had known exposure to Ebola-containing bodily fluids with protection — will be required to sign an agreement not to use public transportation or attend large gatherings. They also will have to consult with health officials on all travel. Other precautions include taking their temperature four times a day and having daily contact with health officials, including in-person assessment.
A third category includes people who are considered to be at low, but not zero, risk. They will be required to have their temperature taken twice a day and have daily contact with public health officials.
There have been no cases of Ebola acquired in Maryland.
New York and New Jersey officials were criticized over the weekend for backing 21-day quarantines for medical workers returning from West Africa. Health experts have warned that the restrictions are unnecessary and could discourage volunteers from helping to stop the spread of the disease in the three countries. The states' two governors late Sunday emphasized that their policies allow home confinement for medical workers who have had contact with Ebola patients if the workers show no symptoms.
Sharfstein said Maryland has the ability to conduct quarantine, but the state decided to approach people with the highest risk to sign agreements to stay home and be closely monitored. He said about 10 to 15 people a day travel to Maryland from the three countries. He also said that while Maryland already has monitored people considered to be at high risk or some risk, though they have already have been cleared. Sharfstein said the state currently has no one in those categories in the state.