Nurse defies Ebola quarantine in Maine
FORT KENT, Maine - All but daring Maine health authorities to go to court to have her confined, nurse Kaci Hickox went out on a bike ride Thursday in defiance of the state's voluntary quarantine for medical workers who have treated Ebola patients.
It was the second time in two days that she left her home in remote northern Maine, along the Canadian border. On Wednesday evening, Hickox came out and briefly spoke to reporters, even shaking a hand that was offered to her.
State officials planned to go to court Thursday to have her confined against her will in what is shaping up as the nation's biggest test case yet in the struggle to balance public health and fear of Ebola against personal freedom.
Hickox, 33, told reporters that she hoped for a compromise with health officials, but her actions indicated she had no intention of remaining in isolation for the remainder of the 21-day incubation period for Ebola that ends on Nov. 10.
"I really hope that we can work things out amicably and continue to negotiate," she said as she and her boyfriend rode on a dirt path in this town of 4,300 people.
A state police cruiser followed Hickox on her hour-long bike ride, but police could not take action to detain her without a court order signed by a judge.
After returning from Africa, where she treated Ebola victims in Sierra Leone, Hickox stepped into the media glare last week when she became subject to a mandatory quarantine in New Jersey.
After being released from a hospital there, she returned to this small town, where she was placed under what Maine authorities called a voluntary quarantine.
She said she is following the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of daily monitoring for fever and other signs of the disease. But she said she is no threat to others because she has no symptoms.
"I'm not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it's not science-based," she said Wednesday evening.
States have broad authority under long-established law to quarantine people to prevent the spread of disease. But legal experts said there are differences here that could work in Hickox's favor in court: People infected with Ebola are not contagious until they have symptoms, and the virus is not spread through casual contact.
In Hickox's case, she has tested negative for Ebola so far. But it can take days for the virus to reach detectable levels.
In other developments:
- Ebola fears infected a medical conference on the subject. Louisiana state health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical-diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.
- Liberia is making some progress in containing the outbreak, while Sierra Leone is "in a crisis situation which is going to get worse," the top anti-Ebola officials in the two countries said.
- The World Bank announced it will give an additional $100 million to help bring in more foreign health workers. That raises the money it has given to the fight to $500 million.
Some states like Maine are going above and beyond the CDC guidelines to require quarantines. So is the U.S military.
President Barack Obama, the nation's top infectious-disease expert and humanitarian groups have warned that overly restrictive measures could cripple the fight against the disease at its source by discouraging volunteers like Hickox from going to West Africa, where the outbreak has sickened more than 13,000 people and killed nearly 5,000 of them.
"These kinds of restrictions could dissuade hundreds, if not thousands, of skilled volunteers from helping stop Ebola's spread, which is in the national interest of every one of our countries," Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Thursday in Brussels.
She added: "The volunteers are heroes to the people they help, and they are heroes to our own countries. They should be treated like heroes when they return."
In Maine, state law allows a judge to confine someone if health officials demonstrate "a clear and immediate public health threat."
If a judge grants the request, Hickox will appeal on constitutional grounds, said Norman Siegel, one of her attorneys.
Siegel said the nurse hopes her fight against the quarantine will help bring an end to misinformation about how Ebola is spread.
"She wants to have her voice in the debate about how America handles the Ebola crisis. She has an important voice and perspective," he said.
Word spread quickly around the town about Hickox.
Priscilla Staples said that some are fearful of Hickox's presence, but Hickox "has done nothing wrong, and she has every right in the world to go for a bike ride."