Nurse defies forced Ebola quarantine, goes on bike ride

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FORT KENT, Maine -- In any other circumstance, it would be the furthest thing from a headline: Maine nurse leaves home on bike.

And yet Thursday, when Kaci Hickox and her boyfriend left their house in the tiny town of Fort Kent and pedaled along a long country road, law enforcement vehicles took off after her.

About an hour later, they came back. A throng of journalists met her and photographed her. She went back into the house.

Hickox has become the center of attention -- and debate -- about whether health care workers should be quarantined after they treat Ebola patients. When she returned from a month in Sierra Leone last week, officials said she had a temperature at an airport in Newark, New Jersey, and she was put into isolation.

She blasted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for enforcing a new policy that required anyone who was showing symptoms of Ebola -- an elevated temperature is one -- to be quarantined for 21 days, the virus's incubation period.

Hickox has twice tested negative for Ebola, says she feels healthy, and upon returning to her home state of Maine has publicly said that she intended to defy that state's similar quarantine request.

Apparently, she did Thursday.

Is it fear or facts?

That question is at the heart of the standoff between her and Maine officials.

"The worst thing would be is if she steps out of her house in the next hour and they try to put handcuffs on her," Hickox's lawyer Norm Siegel said Thursday, before his client left her home.

On Thursday morning, Hickox's attorneys plan to talk with state authorities to find a resolution, Siegel said.

State troopers have been parked outside the home where Hickox has been staying in Fort Kent, a town of 4,000 near Maine's northern border.

"If we're going to have a disagreement, let's have the disagreement in a court of law, not in the streets of Maine."

Siegel said Maine authorities must obtain a court order before they can arrest his client if she breaks quarantine. Once that order is secured, her legal team has three days to challenge it.

Siegel was asked if Hickox intends to go to work Thursday.

"I would hope the government officials in Maine have a reasonable, open mind about what's going on and let's not have an exacerbation of the tensions that already exist," the attorney said.

Maine's side

Maine Health Commissioner Mary Mayhew said late Wednesday afternoon that the process has already begun to file a court order. Mayhew cited concerns about Hickox's hands-on role in dealing with Ebola patients, as well as "concerns about the lack of reliability and the lack of trustworthiness in the information that has been received."

"You need to be able to have trust and credibility in that information," she said. "That makes her a higher risk."

Mayhew also blasted what she called "the lack of leadership at the federal level" that has created "a patchwork quilt of state-by-state determinations," vowing that "we will not stand by and exacerbate the situation in Maine."

Mayhew said that officials have been "pleading for common sense, for an appreciation for the risks that exist." She pointed to other states such as New Jersey, New York and Illinois that have implemented 21-day quarantines for health care workers returning from West Africa, over objections from some medical professionals and federal officials.

Hickox has been critical of those policies, too, saying that they could discourage health care workers from going to West Africa. It's possible that some would reconsider helping to fight the epidemic abroad because facing a quarantine upon returning home could hurt their ability to go to work and earning a living.

She hastened to add that she planned to go back to West Africa and continue to help.

On Thursday, the offices of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the creation of "a program of financial incentives" and "employment protections" to encourage health care workers to treat Ebola patients in West Africa. Among the measures: The state will "provide necessary reimbursements -- to health care workers and their employers -- for any quarantines that are needed upon their return to help protect public health and safety in New York."

In Maine, Mayhew said she "did not understand" why Hickox is challenging what she calls a "common-sense approach" of the nurse staying home for three weeks.

That amount of time is significant because it may take that long between when a person gets Ebola and shows signs of it. Ebola, which spreads only via bodily fluids, not through the air, is contagious only when its carriers are showing symptoms, health officials say.

"(This is) a reasonable request to ensure -- out of an abundance of caution -- that we are protecting the people of this state," Mayhew said.

Yet Hickox says she thinks the U.S. Constitution and science are on her side.

On Wednesday night, Hickox emerged from the home where she has been staying. She reiterated that she is healthy and free of any Ebola symptoms.

She said she is willing to compromise with the state. Hickox is open to travel restrictions, like barring her from public transportation and limiting her to the Fort Kent area.

"So I think there are things that, I know, work," she said. "And I know all aid workers are willing to do those things. But I'm not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it's not science-based."

Having to defend herself and not being able to hug her friends, especially after four tough weeks in West Africa, are "painful (and) emotionally draining," the nurse said. Hickox also said "it's frustrating to hear nasty things," saying her intention in going to Sierra Leone was to make "a difference in people's lives," and her aim now that she's back is not "to put anyone at risk in this community."

Obama champions Ebola caregivers

While he didn't mention Hickox's case specifically, President Barack Obama on Wednesday did speak to -- and in support of -- health care workers like her who have risked their lives and livelihoods by going to West Africa to help those in need. He characterized them as "heroes" who "deserve to be treated with dignity and respect."

He also criticized those championing policies such as quarantines and travel bans, saying that America should firstly be praising, encouraging and supporting health care workers critical to curbing the Ebola epidemic rather than antagonizing them.

"When I hear people talking about American leadership and then are promoting policies that would avoid leadership and have us running in the opposite direction and hiding under the covers, it makes me a little frustrated," Obama said.

The President and numerous infectious disease experts have stressed the importance of stopping Ebola at its source to combat the further spread of the virus to the rest of the world.

The World Health Organization reported Wednesday that there are more than 13,700 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola, almost all in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The United Nations' health authority projected about 5,000 deaths from the virus.

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, the WHO says the death toll may be especially undercounted. 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.

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18 comments

  • Anonymous

    What a stupid idiot.
    They need to take her in by force if necessary, and make her wait out her quarantine.
    This is total irresponsibility by this so-called nurse. She should be fired and never allowed to be a nurse again, because clearly she does not understand the fundamentals..

  • Anonymous

    I can totally understand where she’s coming from: No symptoms, no infection, why should she be locked away? But the fact remains that she knew what she signed up for doing the “Doctors Without Borders” thing. She needs to do the world a favor and do what she’s told, in that tiny modicum of a chance she’s infected.

  • SSG

    There is always that one person that thinks they are above the law.
    Why does she think it is OK to put others at risk? Sure she went to Africa to help, but she isn’t helping the US by putting the public at risk of Ebola! She really shouldn’t be a nurse if she doesn’t care about the public. Send her back to Africa, they can keep her.

  • Erika Wurtele

    She is just a miserable lady in search of attention and publicity. I say if she contracts the disease then we just lock her in a room and call it a day.

  • linda

    How the hell hasn’t her license been taken away
    If she can’t follow simple instructions she shouldn’t be a nurse.

  • Test

    Non citizens are defying federal law and voting too. Foreigners are just waltzing into our country and staying.

    Face it folks. The government is not doing their job. They just ignore lawlessness. What do you expect?

  • Anonymous

    As a former nurse, I believe it entirely correct for the state to suspend her license pending revocation.

  • Thomas Bleser

    Google “Typhoid Mary” and you will know that some carriers will never have the disease they are spreading to others. Mary killed at least 50 people before we put her in quarantine for the rest of her life. The arrogance of some of these idiots who only know that “asymptomatic” means you’re not fighting the infection any more is truly frightening. AIDS and Ebola are only two of at least 17 other potential plague viruses that can mutate faster than we can develop vaccines or acquired immunity and all of them come from areas formerly covered by tropical rainforest. Read Richard Preston’s “Hot Zone” and you will know that all of these diseases come from one highway in the same part of Africa that President Obama comes from. Every truck stop has a whorehouse full of asymptomatic carriers who in turn infect most of their johns. In 1994, Preston’s last words in “Hot Zone” were “Ebola had risen…flashed its colors, fed, and subsided into the forest. It will be back.”

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