Ebola nurse claims forced quarantine violates her human rights

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NEW YORK — Kaci Hickox, a nurse placed under mandatory quarantine in New Jersey, criticized the “knee-jerk reaction by politicians” to Ebola, saying “to quarantine someone without a better plan in place, without more forethought, is just preposterous.”

Hickox, an epidemiologist who was working to help treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, has tested negative twice for Ebola and does not have symptoms, she said.

“This is an extreme that is really unacceptable, and I feel like my basic human rights have been violated,” Hickox said.

She described herself as “physically strong” but “emotionally exhausted.”

“To put me through this emotional and physical stress is completely unacceptable,” she said.

She slammed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for describing her as “obviously ill.”

“I’m sorry, but that’s just a completely unacceptable statement in my opinion. For him — a politician who’s trusted and respected — to make a statement that’s categorically not true is just unacceptable and appalling,” Hickox said.

Hickox told Crowley that mandatory quarantine is “not a sound public health decision” and that public health officials — not politicians — should be making the policies related to Ebola and public safety.

“For the first 12 hours, I was in shock. Now I’m angry,” she added.

On Sunday afternoon, Norman Siegel, Hickox’s attorney, said that he will be filing papers in court for Hickox to have a hearing no later than five days from the start of her confinement.

Siegel, a New York lawyer and former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said Hickox’s quarantine is based on fear.

“People are panicking, and people are scared,” he said.

‘To put me in prison is just inhumane’

Hickox arrived in Newark Liberty Airport on Friday afternoon and after a seven-hour wait at the hospital. She was put in an isolation tent inside University Hospital in Newark. She’s twice tested negative for Ebola, including a test at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Hickox says she has asked repeatedly but hasn’t been told how long she’ll be held at the hospital.

“To put me in prison,” she said, “is just inhumane.”

On Fox News Sunday morning, Christie said he had “no second thoughts” about New Jersey’s mandatory quarantine for health care workers.

“I believe that folks who want to take that step and are willing to volunteer also understand that it’s in their interest and the public health interest to have a 21-day period thereafter if they’ve been directly exposed to people with the virus,” he said.

Christie also told “Fox News Sunday” that a voluntary system of quarantine isn’t reliable.

“I don’t believe that when you’re dealing with a serious situation like this that we can count on a voluntary system; this is the government’s job.”

At a news conference Saturday, the governor said, “I’m sorry if in any way she was inconvenienced, but inconvenience that could occur from having folks that are symptomatic and ill out amongst the public is a much, much greater concern of mine. I hope she recovers quickly.”

Hickox said she has nothing to recover from. Her temperature is normal, and she feels fine.

“Everyone keeps asking how I’m feeling physically and of course I’m fine physically, but I don’t think most people understand what it’s like to be alone in a tent and decisions are being made that don’t make sense and show no compassion,” Hickox said, starting to cry.

“I just feel like fear is winning right now, and when fear wins, everyone loses.”

Her life in quarantine

She’s not allowed to have her luggage and was given paper scrubs to wear. Hickox said she has no shower, no flushable toilet and the hospital gave her no television or any reading material. Mostly, she says, she stares at the walls.

On Sunday afternoon, the hospital issued an update saying “the patient has computer access, use of her cell phone, reading material (magazines, newspaper) and requested and has received take-out food and drink.”

Hickox said she’s not allowed to see her lawyer or anyone else.

“The tent has a window, and doctors talk to me in normal clothes from outside the window,” she says. “So if there’s no risk to them talking to me from outside the window, it doesn’t make any sense that my lawyer wouldn’t be able to do the same.”

A spokeswoman for the hospital said staff is trying to make Hickox comfortable.

“While we understand that the required quarantine is an inconvenience, it is our primary goal to make sure the patient is as comfortable as possible. We have given our prompt attention to provide the patient with basic needs and to accommodate additional requests made by the patient,” said Stacie Newton, spokesperson for University Hospital in Newark.

Hickox said she worries that her experience will discourage other aid workers from going to West Africa to help quell the Ebola outbreak.

Hickox said she would welcome Christie to visit her in the hospital.

“Maybe he could tell me what ‘obviously ill’ means. That would be great,” she said.

She added that she doesn’t regret her trip to help Ebola patients in Africa.

“Someone asked me earlier would I do this again if I knew what would happen, and my answer is categorically yes,” she said. “I feel incredibly privileged to be able to do this work.”

After hearing Hickox’s phone interview with Candy Crowley on Sunday, New Jersey Health officials refuted some of the claims made by Hickox.

In the email, Donna Leusner, communications director for the New Jersey Department of Health, wrote that Hickox did receive reading materials and got computer access.

Leusner also wrote that “the patient was given a copy of the quarantine order on Friday and is receiving regular updated information.”

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15 comments

    • Adam

      You are not contagious unless you present symptoms. But dont let facts get in the way of a good civil rights violation.

  • Greg

    The safety of the majority trumps a minor inconvenience to an individual. This should be a Federal mandate not just state level. You work with Ebola patients? Sorry, you’ll need to be in a three week quarantine when you get back. Stop complaining, shutup and color.

    • Adam

      Sounds like a good Hitler anti-jew argument. You are not contagious without symptoms. Hypocritical,anti-constitutional, rights-violators make me laugh.

  • Chuck Queen

    If you “force” quarantine those returning for 21 days due to having treated patients with Ebola then, to keep that rational, should we not do the same to anyone treating Ebola patients here (the doctors, nurses, lab techs, etc.). Hospitals will need lots of living quarters (if they find doctors and stall to treat under these restrictions) for all the staff involved in the treatment of an Ebola patient. Will help the economy and increase healthcare costs for us all as hospitals add living quarters and/or have to pay for non productive staff for 21 days of quarantine.

    This is even worse when you realize that it is fear not science that is driving the bus.

    Have a mandatory, supervised 21 day monitoring of returnees. If you are overly fearful then put location monitoring on them but do not effectively incarcerate them for trying to stop an epidemic.

    • Anonymous

      Good points. But as far as “science” driving the bus? Out of 4 cases in the US, 3 are health care workers – science drove THOSE buses right off the cliff.

  • Paul Kitchen

    how about you stay in this country and give free medical to the thousands who need it? if you go over there you shouldn’t be allowed back in until you are cleared, too bad for you

  • Anonymous

    She stares at the tent walls. She isn’t even allowed to have her doctor come to the window and speak with her like the doctors do.
    Yet she’s doing a CNN interview. hmmmm….why not speak with her Lawyer on the same phone?

  • Adam

    Im sorry this is complete b.s. Everyone here is comfortable violating a person’s due process rights with no evidence of infection. Somehow all the MDs who treated other patients were not required to submit to quarantine? Funny that they make much more than this nurse. So will it be mandatory quarantine for healthcare workers in this country? Better be willing to pay me overtime for 21 days x 24 hours a day or be prepared to have to arrest me.

  • Anonymous

    What a dummy!
    What about our human rights not to be exposed to a deadly virus?
    She should find another profession, because as a nurse, she is absolutely useless.

  • Anonymous

    we dont know that much about ebola, so her being quaratined is to prevent its spread, she needs to deal with it. ;D

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