After a weekend of exchanging sharp barbs with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a nurse who was detained and placed in isolation in the state after returning from West Africa was released.
“Since testing negative for Ebola early Saturday morning, the patient being monitored in isolation has thankfully been symptom free for the last 24 hrs,” the New Jersey Department of Public Health said in a statement. “After being evaluated by CDC & her clinicians the patient is being discharged.”
Kaci Hickox was the first health-care worker to be quarantined under a new policy in New York and New Jersey, shortly after it was announced that another health care worker who recently returned from the region tested positive for Ebola in New York City. During her isolation, Hickox criticized her treatment by New Jersey officials as “inhumane” and lashed out at Christie.
On Monday, at a campaign event in Florida for Gov. Rick Scott, Christie said he “didn’t reverse my decision” in releasing the nurse, adding, “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.”
Earlier on Monday, Christie said Hickox will understand his quarantine decision “when she has time to reflect.”
Hickox returned last week from Sierra Leone after working with Doctors Without Borders on the front lines of the Ebola epidemic. She was held in isolation in a tent at a New Jersey hospital over the weekend, despite having no symptoms of Ebola.
Writing about her isolation for the Dallas Morning News, Hickox said that her treatment after arriving at Newark was disorganized and troubling. “No one seemed to be in charge,” she wrote. “No one would tell me what was going on or what would happen to me.”
She was specifically critical of Christie, who had told reporters Saturday that Hickox was “obviously ill.”
“First of all, I don’t think he’s a doctor,” Hickox told CNN on Sunday, in an interview from her isolation tent. “For the first 12 hours, I was in shock. Now I’m angry.”
Hickox will still be subject to a mandatory quarantine order while she is in the state, the health department statement said. “After consulting with her, she has requested transport to Maine,” the health agency said, noting that New Jersey officials have arranged for Hickox to leave the state in “a private carrier not via mass transit or commercial aircraft. 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.”
Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) said in a statement: “Upon the healthcare workers’ return home, we will follow the guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for medical workers who have been in contact with Ebola patients. Additionally, we will work with the healthcare worker to establish an in-home quarantine protocol to ensure there is no direct contact with other Mainers until the period for potential infection has passed.”
After a doctor in New York tested positive for Ebola, Christie and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) issued strict quarantine procedures for all health-care workers returning from Ebola-stricken regions of West Africa. The doctor, Craig Spencer, had also recently returned from the region after working with Doctors Without Borders.
On Sunday evening, Cuomo revised his state’s initial quarantine procedures to allow asymptomatic health-care workers who have been in contact with Ebola patients to return to their homes, as long as they remain in isolation there.
Christie defended his state’s quarantine on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I don’t believe when you’re dealing with something as serious as this that we can count on a voluntary system,” Christie said. “The government’s job is to protect [the] safety and health of our citizens. And so we’ve taken this action, and I absolutely have no second thoughts about it.”
In Florida on Monday, after health officials announced that Hickox would be discharged, Christie, according to CNN, told reporters: “I know she didn’t want to be there. No one ever wants to be in the hospital, I suspect, and so I understand that. But the fact is I have a much greater, bigger responsibility to the people and the public.”
The news of Hickox’s release came shortly after health officials in New York announced that a 5-year-old boy who recently traveled from Guinea is at Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital awaiting test results for Ebola. According to an e-mailed statement from the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, the child developed a fever Monday morning while already under observation at Bellevue. The department expects preliminary results within the next 12 hours.
[This post has been updated.]