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New York Governor Lays Out Ebola Rules: Mandatory Home Quarantine

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he's erring on the side of caution with Ebola protocols that critics say go too far.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said anyone arriving in the state after contact with Ebola victims in West African countries will be told to stay at home for 21 days, an approach that's more in line with federal recommendations and released after New Jersey came under fire for putting a returning nurse in quarantine.

But lawyers said the modified approach still would violate the civil rights of Americans coming back from helping to fight the virus abroad.

Cuomo made the announcement on Sunday evening at a press conference with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"It's a home quarantine but it is a mandatory quarantine," Cuomo said, noting he thought those who would be subject to it would "be receptive and understanding."

"It’s not like a terrible task is being asked of you … you stay at home,” he said.

Health care workers will check on individuals twice a day to monitor their symptoms. Facilities will be provided for those who don't have a place to stay. Cuomo said it would probably be "the safest protocol in the U.S." and "that should give people tremendous comfort."

The rules apply to anyone, not just medical workers, returning from West Africa after contact with Ebola victims, he said. The state will pay to transport people home, and health care workers that don’t get paid for the quarantine period by their employers will be compensated by the state.

Image: Nurse Kaci Hickox in an isolation tent
Nurse Kaci Hickox sits in Newark University Hospital's isolation tent after she returned from helping Ebola patients in West Africa.Norman Siegel's Office

Cuomo's comments came as lawyers for a New Jersey woman quarantined upon her arrival in Newark from West Africa said they would sue to have her released and file a constitutional challenge to such state restrictions.

One of the woman's attorneys, Steven Hyman, said New York's plan was "different now. They’re starting to run from this I think because of the absurdity of putting people like this in essentially detention when there’s nothing wrong with them," he added.

But the new policy "still has major flaws," he told NBC News. "You're telling somebody who is an American citizen, with the right to live and work and be in this country, that they have to stay home. They don’t have to be in jail or in a tent, but they have to be home. Unless there is a medical basis for it, they cannot do that. As much as Gov. Cuomo thinks that he has come up with some solution, he has not."

Late Sunday, Cuomo's office denied that there had been any shift in policy.

A senior administration official told NBC News on Sunday afternoon that state policies for health care workers returning from Ebola-stricken countries could backfire if they're "not grounded in science."

"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," the administration official said. "We have also let these states know that we are working on new guidelines for returning healthcare workers that will protect the American people against imported cases, while, at the same time, enabling us to continue to tackle this epidemic in West Africa."

But Cuomo said that the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "have yet to establish their protocol. We have to operate now."