Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is looking for ways to force a nurse released from mandatory Ebola isolation in New Jersey to abide by a similar 21-day quarantine in Maine.
“The Office of the Governor has been working collaboratively with the State health officials within the Department of Health and Human Services to seek legal authority to enforce the quarantine,” LePage’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “We hoped that the health-care worker would voluntarily comply with these protocols, but this individual has stated publicly she will not abide by the protocols.”
The nurse, Kaci Hickox, recently returned to the United States from Sierra Leone, where she was working on the front lines of the Ebola epidemic with Doctors Without Borders.
Last Friday, Hickox was placed in quarantine in New Jersey after returning from West Africa, despite testing negative for the virus.
By Saturday, she was battling Gov. Chris Christie (R) over the conditions and legality of the quarantine, filing a lawsuit and forcing public debate over states’ treatment of health-care workers returning from West Africa.
The governor quickly backed down and released Hickox.
Now back in her home state of Maine, Hickox again finds herself at odds with state officials who expect her to remain quarantined at home for 21 days, the incubation period for Ebola.
State police vehicles were spotted stationed outside of a home where Hickcox may be staying, though her lawyers have declined to reveal her current location.
On Wednesday morning, Hickox told the “Today” show: “I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines. I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me, even though I am in perfectly good health and feeling strong and have been this entire time completely symptom free.”
Hickox said she will remain in voluntary quarantine until Thursday, but will take legal action against the state unless something changes. “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 told “Today.”
Her attorney, Steven Hyman, told ABC News that Hickox “does not intend to abide by the quarantine imposed by Maine officials because she is not a risk to others. She is asymptomatic and under all the protocols cannot be deemed a medical risk of being contagious to anyone.”
New York civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, who is also representing Hickox, told the Bangor Daily News: “The conditions that the state of Maine is now requiring Kaci to comply with are unconstitutional and illegal and there is no justification for the state of Maine to infringe on her liberty.”
Hickox has agreed to daily monitoring, as recommended in updated Ebola guidelines released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That involves twice-daily temperature readings and daily in-person visits with a CDC official.
The new guidelines recommend “restriction of movement within the community” and avoiding public transportation for those exposed to the disease who don’t show symptoms. They do not call for isolation of anyone who is symptom-free.
“She understands the nature of the disease, she treated it,” Hyman told the Bangor Daily News. “She understands the nature of the risk.”
At a news conference Tuesday, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew acknowledged that the state’s rules go beyond the federal guidelines. She also said the state could seek a court order to enforce a quarantine.
Mayhew did not address Hickox’s case specifically, saying only that officials are “evaluating appropriate steps to ensure that our protocol is complied with and if necessary, will be enforced.”
Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, cited the Ebola cases in Texas, where two nurses got sick after treating an Ebola patient from Liberia.
“We don’t know a lot about this virus but we do know from the experiences learned in Texas that they had some equivocal tests within the first 72 hours of testing their health-care workers,” Pinette said.
Though Hickox tested negative, officials remain concerned.
“We believe that she may have been tested too early,” Pinette said. “That is the reason why we continue to monitor this individual. So I have to say, in my own clinical opinion, to protect the health and safety of even one Mainer, it is extremely important for us to be very, very cautious.”
Local officials said Tuesday that Hickox is not heading back to her home right away. Michael Sullivan, chief medical officer at the Northern Maine Medical Center, said at a news conference that Hickox has been in contact with the Maine CDC and that state health officials know where she is.
[This post has been updated.]