Updated at 10:38 a.m.: The New Jersey Department of Public Health announced this morning that nurse Kaci Hickox would be released from quarantine. Here’s the full statement:
Since testing negative for Ebola on early Saturday morning, the patient being monitored in isolation at University Hospital in Newark has thankfully been symptom free for the last 24 hours. As a result, and after being evaluated in coordination with the CDC and the treating clinicians at University Hospital, the patient is being discharged. Since the patient had direct exposure to individuals suffering from the Ebola Virus in one of the three West African nations, she is subject to a mandatory New Jersey quarantine order. After consulting with her, she has requested transport to Maine, and that transport will be arranged via a private carrier not via mass transit or commercial aircraft. She will remain subject to New Jersey’s mandatory quarantine order while in New Jersey. Health officials in Maine have been notified of her arrangements and will make a determination under their own laws on her treatment when she arrives.
Physicians at University Hospital have continuously monitored the patient’s situation since admittance on Friday, following her arrival at Newark Airport from West Africa where she had been treating symptomatic Ebola patients. The patient was initially found to have no symptoms, but later developed a fever. Because she had symptoms, she was subsequently transferred to University Hospital where she was placed in isolation under a quarantine order for review and testing. She was cared for in a monitored area of the hospital with an advanced tenting system that was recently toured and evaluated by the CDC. While in isolation, every effort was made to insure that she remained comfortable with access to a computer, cell phone, reading material and nourishment of choice.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) “messed with the wrong redhead,” nursing student Ted Wilbur said, referring to his girlfriend, Kaci Hickox, the Doctors Without Borders nurse being kept in isolation at a New Jersey hospital.
Speaking to the New York Times, Wilbur said Hickox, 33, who was detained Friday after arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport from Sierra Leone, hadn’t planned on talking to the media.
She broke her silence after Christie told reporters at a campaign stop Saturday that the nurse who’d tested negative for Ebola was “obviously ill.”
“First of all, I don’t think he’s a doctor,” Hickox said of Christie in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley from her isolation tent on Sunday. “For the first 12 hours, I was in shock. Now I’m angry,”
Her anger has been productive so far. From the confines of isolation, where she doesn’t have a TV or even a shower, she’s managed to wage an all-out media campaign against her confinement, which she criticized as “inhumane.” She’s also hired a civil rights attorney to challenge her detention.
Hickox was the first to be confined under a policy announced Friday by the governors of New York and New Jersey imposing a mandatory 21-day quarantine on travelers from West Africa who had contact with Ebola patients. The policy, which goes beyond the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, followed news that Craig Spencer, 33, also of Doctors Without Borders, developed Ebola symptoms after riding the subway and going bowling in Brooklyn upon his return from West Africa, where he was treating Ebola patients. He’s currently quarantined at Bellevue Hospital in New York.
Having just returned from West Africa, where misinformation and conspiracy theories about Ebola’s origins hamper attempts to combat the deadly virus, Hickox came home to a country gripped by a different fear: schools rejecting applicants from West Africa, sick bus passengers with no connection to West Africa whisked away by hazmat teams, immigration hawks using the virus as a rallying cry for closing the Mexican border, outsized public concern, others using it to tout Obamacare and two governors imposing a quarantine some disease experts say will hurt mitigation efforts.
The backlash to the policy has already seen some results: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said Sunday night medical workers returning from West Africa who show no signs of Ebola can live at home during the quarantine period. Christie said:
The protocol is clear that a New Jersey resident with no symptoms, but who has come into contact with someone with Ebola, such as a health care provider, would be subject to a mandatory quarantine order and quarantined at home. Non-residents would be transported to their homes if feasible and, if not, quarantined in New Jersey.
Hickox told CNN the quarantine violated her “basic human rights.” She criticized the policy as a “knee-jerk reaction by politicians” to Ebola, and said such decisions should be left to health officials.
She recounted the experience in an op-ed for the Dallas Morning News published Saturday.
After travelling for two days, Hickox arrived at Newark to find what she described in her op-ed as “a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine.” She was headed to Maine to reunite with her boyfriend. Instead she was detained for seven hours before being escorted by eight police cars to an isolation tent outside University Hospital in Newark.
At the airport, “no one seemed to be in charge,” she wrote. “No one would tell me what was going on or what would happen to me.”
The first time officials took her temperature it was normal. Four hours later, she was still waiting for an explanation for her detention. She had been given nothing to eat but a granola bar. She was anxious and flushed when she had her temperature taken a second time with a forehead scanner. It was 101. She protested that an oral thermometer would give a more accurate reading.
Hours later at the hospital an oral thermometer showed her temperature at 98 degrees. An Ebola test came back negative.
Still in isolation, Hickox fears colleagues will meet the same fate. “I had spent a month watching children die, alone. I had witnessed human tragedy unfold before my eyes. I had tried to help when much of the world has looked on and done nothing,” she wrote for the Dallas Morning News. “I sat alone in the isolation tent and thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?”