Maine state police were stationed outside the home of Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox Wednesday as Gov. Paul LePage said he was seeking legal authority to force the “unwilling” health workers to remain quarantined for 21 days.
The 33-year-old nurse, who has shown no symptoms of the deadly virus, arrived in Maine on Monday after being forcibly held in an isolation tent in New Jersey for three days under that state’s strict new law for health workers who have recently treated Ebola patients in West Africa.
Over Hickox’s objections, Maine health officials insisted that she stay in her home in Fort Kent for 21 days until the incubation period for Ebola had passed.
“I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines,” Hickox tells TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “I am not going to sit around and be bullied by politicians and forced to stay in my home when I am not a risk to the American public.”
Maine Gov. Paul LePage, however, said Wednesday that Hickox has been “unwilling” to follow state protocols and that he will seek legal authority to enforce the quarantine.
The governor’s office said state police were stationed outside her home “for both her protection and the health of the community.”
“We hoped that the healthcare worker would voluntarily comply with these protocols, but this individual has stated publicly she will not abide by the protocols,” LePage said in a statement on the governor’s website.
“We are very concerned about her safety and health and that of the community,” he said. “We are exploring all of our options for protecting the health and well-being of the healthcare worker, anyone who comes in contact with her, the Fort Kent community and all of Maine. While we certainly respect the rights of one individual, we must be vigilant in protecting 1.3 million Mainers, as well as anyone who visits our great state.”
Hickox, according to her attorney, had only agreed to remain home for two days after traveling from New Jersey on Monday.
The nurse for Doctors Without Borders was the first person pulled aside at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday under new state regulations after her return from Sierra Leone, where she was working with Ebola patients.
After speaking out publicly, Hickox was allowed to leave for Maine, where health officials have said they expect her to agree to be quarantined for a 21-day period, The Bangor Daily News reports.
Hickox said she believes the quarantine policy is “not scientifically nor constitutionally just.”
She tells TODAY she will pursue legal action if Maine forces her into continued isolation.
“If the restrictions placed on me by the state of Maine are not lifted by Thursday morning, I will go to court to fight for my freedom,” she says.
Her attorney, Steven Hyman, told CNN Wednesday that his client had received no mandatory orders and that “the next step is up to Maine.”
“The only reason that there is a cry for quarantine is because the political side has decided that it would just be better if she stayed home and lost her civil right so we could all feel more comfortable, which is not supported by any medical evidence,” Hyman said.
Without naming Hickox specifically, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said Tuesday evening that the state has the authority to seek a court order to compel quarantine for individuals deemed a public health risk.
“We have made the determination that out of an abundance of caution, this is a reasonable, common-sense approach to remove additional risk and guard against a public health crisis in Maine,” said Mayhew, WLBZ-TV reports. She did not mention Hickox by name.
Hickox’s high-profile campaign from isolation in New Jersey, including a first-person account in The Dallas Morning News, underscored the shifting response to the Ebola crisis by state and federal authorities.
On Friday, New York Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a plan of mandatory quarantine for health workers back from Africa who’d been exposed to Ebola but showed no symptoms.
It was in part a reaction to the case of Craig Spencer, a New York City physician who tested positive for Ebola, but acknowledged he had left his apartment and moved around the city just before experiencing Ebola symptoms.
Saying they couldn’t rely on voluntary self-reporting, the governors pronounced themselves resolved to err on the side of caution and monitor people like Spencer under confinement. Cuomo, however, quickly eased those rules, allowing such health workers to self-quarantine at home.
The White House also weighed in, saying it had conveyed concerns to the governors of New York and New Jersey that their stringent quarantine policies were “not grounded in science” and would hamper efforts to recruit volunteers to fight the epidemic in Africa. Christie said he had not heard from the White House before the plan was announced.
After the uproar in New Jersey, Hickox was allowed to leave on Monday, but Christie insisted that it did not represent a change of policy.
“I didn’t reverse any decision,” he said Tuesday. “She hadn’t had any symptoms for 24 hours. And she tested negative for Ebola. So there was no reason to keep her. The reason she was put into the hospital in the first place was because she was running a high fever and was symptomatic.”
“If people are symptomatic they go into the hospital,” Christie said. “If they live in New Jersey, they get quarantined at home. If they don’t, and they’re not symptomatic, then we set up quarantine for them out of state. But if they are symptomatic, they’re going to the hospital.”
Hickox told The Dallas Morning News that her brief fever spike, recorded by a forehead scanner at the airport, was the result of being flushed and angry over her confinement and that an oral temperature reading at the same time showed her to be normal.