Q&A: New Minnesota Ebola monitoring restrictions announced

Governor Dayton
Governor Mark Dayton, rights, speaks to reporters about Minnesota's ebola prevention and response efforts during a news conference on Friday, Oct. 17, 2014.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

Some health care workers who return to Minnesota after treating Ebola patients in West Africa will be confined to their homes for 21 days — the longest period of time Ebola can incubate in a person.

Gov. Mark Dayton announced the new restrictions Monday after consulting with a team of medical, legal and public health experts over the weekend.

Unlike quarantine policies applied to health care workers in some other states, Minnesota's home confinement policy will apply primarily to travelers who had a known exposure to Ebola.

More MPR News Ebola coverage

Here's a look at the state's new guidelines:

What would be considered a "known exposure" to Ebola?

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Ebola is spread by direct contact with an infected person's body fluids. One example of a "known exposure" might be if a health care worker accidentally stuck themselves with a needle while drawing blood from an Ebola patient. Another example would be if a health care worker reported touching his or her eyes while removing contaminated personal protective equipment.

What happens to health care worker who have worked with Ebola patients but didn't have any known exposures?

It depends. People who fall in to this category will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Someone from the Minnesota Department of Health will ask the traveler questions about the type of work they did and what type of protective gear they wore. The health department also will want to know which organization the traveler worked for. Some aid groups have stricter safety guidelines for treating Ebola patients than others.

If the health care worker had a low exposure risk, then that person probably won't be subject to home confinement. But others, with higher risk, might be.

If a person is confined to their home for 21 days, will they be completely isolated from others?

No. They will be allowed to have family members in their home. A person is not considered infectious until they begin to display symptoms of Ebola. But they will be restricted from using local public transit or attending mass gatherings.

What if you're not a health care worker and you don't have a known exposure to Ebola, but you are a traveler returning from one of the three West African countries. Will you be monitored or restricted in any way?

Ed Ehlinger
Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, right, speaks to reporters about Minnesota's ebola prevention and response efforts during a news conference on Friday, Oct. 17, 2014.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

All travelers returning from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea will be required to take their temperatures twice a day and be in daily contact with the health department for 21 days. They also won't be allowed to use public transportation for trips lasting longer than three hours. Part of the rationale is that if travelers start showing Ebola symptoms, they should be close to a hospital where they can be quickly isolated.

What has been the early reaction to Minnesota's new travel monitoring policy?

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota released a statement accusing the Dayton administration of bypassing the courts and frightening the public. But ACLU officials later backed off from that position when they learned that Minnesota's policy is voluntary.

Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger said he believes that most travelers will cooperate. But he does have the power to quarantine people to protect the public with a court order. During today's news conference Ehlinger said he would use his quarantine authority if his agency staff believe it's necessary to isolate a traveler.

Is the health department currently monitoring anyone?

Yes, they have been in contact with one traveler so far and the agency is reaching out to at least 26 other travelers that have come to Minnesota in the past week from the three Ebola-affected countries in West Africa. Minnesota's travel monitoring program is now up and running.