Maine nurse won’t submit to Ebola quarantine, lawyer says

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Kaci Hickox, left, from her time in Sierra Leone.

BANGOR, Maine A nurse who was quarantined against her will in New Jersey after treating Ebola patients in West Africa will not obey officials’ instructions to seclude herself at home in Maine, she and her lawyers said on the “Today” show and to the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday.

One of the nurse’s lawyers said Wednesday they are trying to work with Maine officials to avoid escalating the situation.

The nurse, Kaci Hickox, returned to Maine on Monday after New Jersey authorities released her from a hospital tent where state officials kept her over the weekend as part of a new quarantine policy. She hired a lawyer and spoke out about her isolation and was then transported to Maine.

She has been tested twice for Ebola. Those tests turned up no trace of the virus.

Maine officials have said that they would ask Hickox to quarantine herself at home until the passage of 21 days from her last possible contact with an Ebola patient, adding that they would make it involuntary if she resisted.

“Today” show host Matt Lauer asked her if she planned to follow guidelines and finish that quarantine on Nov. 10.

“I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines,” she said. “I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me.”

That could set up a confrontation with Maine officials.

A fight ahead?

Maine Gov. Paul LePage has said the state would work with Hickox on a plan to isolate her for the 21-day period.

One of Hickox’s lawyers, Norm Siegel, told Lauer that officials had until Thursday to adjust their approach, and if they tried to physically apprehend Hickox, her legal team would take the matter to court.

On Tuesday, the state’s health commissioner — without naming Hickox — warned that the state would force the quarantine if she didn’t isolate herself willingly.

“If an individual who came in direct contact with Ebola patients has returned to Maine and is not willing to avoid public contact and stay in their home voluntarily during the period they are at some risk, we will take additional measures and pursue appropriate authority to ensure they make no public contact,” Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told reporters Tuesday.

“I want to be sure everyone understands what quarantine means in this case,” Mayhew said. “Stating it plainly, what we are asking for is that individuals who had direct contact with Ebola patients stay in their home and avoid public contact until the 21 days for potential incubation has passed.”

Hickox attorney Steven Hyman said he thinks the next step is up to Maine.

“We had been attempting to work with them to try to find some kind of compromise here, but that has not been possible,” he said. “And I saw from their news conference last night that they intend to try to seek an order. We have received no paper, so at this point she is not under any restriction other than her own voluntary staying in the house today.”

Hyman said that knowing for certain what could happen legally is unclear because “we’re treading in areas” in which “there’s not a whole lot of case law.”

However, he said, “Society has a right to protect itself from legitimate issues of public health, but it can’t do it based on what the (U.S.) Supreme Court calls fear.”

The lawyer referred to the opinion of Dr. Amesh A. Adalja who also discussed the Hickox case, weighing in as an independent medical expert. He specializes in infectious disease and is a member of the U.S. government’s National Disaster Medical System.

Adalja said the nurse is not contagious if she is not having symptoms, and even if she were symptomatic, she would have to somehow pass along her bodily fluids to other people to infect them.

He said he worried that some had “forgotten” established science about the virus.

Lawyer: Nurse will follow CDC guidelines

Siegel told the Bangor newspaper that Hickox would contest any court order. But she will abide by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that say she should subject herself to monitoring, such as daily reporting of measured temperatures.

“The conditions that the state of Maine is now requiring Kaci to comply with are unconstitutional and illegal and there is no justification for the state of Maine to infringe on her liberty,” Siegel told the Daily News.

The nurse told “Today” that she’s in good health and does not have symptoms. A person must be symptomatic to be contagious if they have Ebola.

She said that she thinks it would be “reasonable,” in circumstances like hers, to self-monitor for symptoms but not be quarantined. Those are the steps that the organization Doctors Without Borders recommends. She spent time recently in Sierra Leone treating Ebola patients with the group.

Hickox initially was put in isolation Friday, after landing in New Jersey from Sierra Leone.

New Jersey and New York had just started requiring anyone who had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa to be quarantined for 21 days. New Jersey officials additionally said that screeners determined that she had a fever at the airport.

But Hickox said the weekend from her quarantine tent at the New Jersey hospital that she never had a fever.

“They were using a forehead scanner, and I was distressed and a little bit upset, and so my cheeks were flushed,” she told Candy Crowley.

Hickox said her temperature was later determined to be normal.

Dispute about quarantine policies

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the state agreed to let her go to Maine after confirming she “was no longer symptomatic,” but he is unapologetic about New Jersey’s quarantine policy.

Hickox told “Today” that she witnessed “complete disorganization” at the airport in Newark and that New York and New Jersey’s policies are “not scientifically” or “Constitutionally just.”

The policies, she says, will be a “big deterrent” for health care workers who want to go to West Africa to treat patients, because they won’t want to be quarantined when they return if, like her, they are asymptomatic.

“It’s already difficult for people to take time out of their lives to go and respond,” she said, though she definitely plans to go back because it’s a “privilege to help.”

Christie said he doesn’t plan to move “an inch” on New Jersey’s Ebola quarantine policy.

Campaigning Tuesday in Rhode Island for GOP gubernatorial nominee Allan Fung, the straight-talking Republican also hit back at criticism that the nurse wasn’t treated well enough, arguing that she even had Internet access and takeout food.

“Whatever,” he said, when pressed by reporters about a potential legal challenge. “Get in line. I’ve been sued lots of times before. Get in line. I’m happy to take it on.”

The debate about how to treat returning health care workers comes amid what officials say is the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 10,000 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola — almost all in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — and there have been nearly 5,000 deaths.

And those are only the ones that authorities have been able to count, in a region where health care access and record-keeping are limited. And the WHO, the United Nations’ health authority, says the death toll may be especially under-counted: Some ill people who are seen by physicians and counted as Ebola cases may not stay for treatment and die of the disease, and the record keepers won’t know to record their deaths.

The WHO has said that the mortality rate from the current outbreak, starting with the first death in December, is roughly 60 percent to 70 percent.

14 comments

  • Christina Garcia

    I myself have worked in a health facility for over 22 years now and I cannot understand how her being a nurse that she cannot understand the fact that whether or not she is infected with a deadly disease that has the potential to kill many people, that she is crying about her civil rights being violated . Whats just as sad is that there are lawyers out there that think its ethical to want to out a lawsuit against any facility or anyone in a situation like this. Her attitude and opinions about this tell me that she should not and does not deserve to hold the license that she has. Because as Healthcare workers, we are there first and foremost for the patients, and it is unethical for her to be so selfish. I pray for any patient or person otherwise that come in contact with her. What a disgrace she is to nursing!

  • dapandico

    Samantha Powers: “We need to find a way that when they come home they are treated like conquering heroes and not stigmatized for the tremendous work that they have done,” she added.

    Kaci is a CDC employee.

  • Anonymous

    Okay so her choices are stay at home and contain a possible risk of spreading a disease that could kill thousands. Or go walking through the park and putting thousands at risk for getting a disease. Sounds like a pretty selfish woman to me.

  • Jim

    This nurse is obviously not a professional. The purpose of quarantine has nothing to do with stigmatizing her. The purpose of quarantine is to prevent the spread of a very serious disease that kills people. President Obama refuses to honor his oath and protect the American citizens so some state governors have acted to honor their oaths and protect the residents of their respective states. If this nurse was a professional she would understand this and respect those orders. Since she refuses to respect those orders she needs to be placed in isolation by force for the protection of the people around her. This is not a new issue or action. Do a little history research.

  • Flournoy

    This nurse is seriously disturbed. I think she is being completely unreasonable and quite frankly selfish.

  • Anonymous

    When you decide to selflessly go to another country to help thousands who are ill or dying from a virus this deadly, you take precautions to get there. Therefore, you should also take precautions when you get home. I also agree with the others, being a nurse she should know better. Where has common sense gone? If you want a pat on the back, I will be more than happy to do that after you have been quarantined for the proper amount of time. Thank you for your help, but think about your actions. I hope you don’t have Ebola, but you not taking the necessary precautions is just ludicrous.

  • ANON

    She needs to have her license taken away and forcibly quarantined for the remainder of the 21 day period. This is just sick. Every person going into a situation that calls for being exposed to a deadly virus needs to agree to and sign a quarantine contract so stuff like this doesn’t happen. This woman is apparently very disturbed and if she wants to be selfish, putting millions of people at risk then she needs to be put down like a dog.

  • Anonymous

    Leave it to the self entitled Americans to scream their civil rights are being violated.Yet somehow we wonder why people hate Americans,SMH.She wants nothing to do with the government until she starts showing symptoms then she’ll be crying for the medicine…..BOOOOOO.It’s going to be so funny when all the “Americans” run south or north for help when Ebola pops up everywhere and both sides deny them access…That’ll be the day haha :).

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