WASHINGTON – The U.S. Ebola debate Thursday centered on a small town in Maine, a governor vowing to use the “full extent” of his power to quarantine a humanitarian nurse, and the defiant nurse herself taking a rogue bicycle ride.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage said he plans to turn to legal measures to force Kaci Hickox, who recently returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa, to remain quarantined at her home until any risk she might be infected with the virus has passed.
LePage said negotiations with Hickox and her attorneys had broken down “despite repeated efforts by state officials” to find a compromise, such as allowing her to go outside while keeping her distance from public places or other people. In a statement, he said that because Hickox “has been unwilling to follow the protocols,” the state would seek legal authority to restrict her movements until the period for possible infection has passed.
Hickox, who was detained in New Jersey for several days before being transported home to Maine, has said she is following guidelines on daily self-monitoring issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and remains free of symptoms, and that the state has no grounds for compelling her to remain in quarantine. Ebola generally is not transmissible until a person begins to show symptoms, such as fever and diarrhea.
“I’m not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it’s not science-based,” Hickox, 33, told reporters this week outside her home.
If Maine seeks a court order to enforce the quarantine, Hickox intends to challenge it, her attorney said. Even as LePage declared his intentions Thursday, Hickox followed through on her vow to ignore the voluntary quarantine order.
Trailed by reporters documenting her trip on a crisp Maine morning, she headed out an hour-long bike ride with her boyfriend.
Hickox, who had worked for the aid group Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone, has become the central figure in a debate over how the government should deal with health-care workers who return to the United States after service in Ebola-ravaged West Africa.
Hickox became a high-profile test case when she arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on the same day that New Jersey and New York announced mandatory quarantines for returning health-care workers, a measure that went beyond what had been recommended by the CDC and medical experts.
The policy was criticized by public-health experts, medical organizations and the White House, which called it unnecessary and said it would deter much-needed volunteers from traveling to West Africa to battle the epidemic there.