The nurse who has been (technically) quarantined in Maine because she treated Ebola patients went for a leisurely bike ride Thursday morning, following through on her vow to ignore the voluntary quarantine order.
Trailed by a coterie of reporters documenting her trip on a crisp Maine morning, she enjoyed an hour-long ride along with her boyfriend:
Not long after, Maine’s governor announced that because the state’s negotiations with the nurse had failed, he would “use legal measures” to address the situation.
Kaci Hickox, who was initially quarantined in New Jersey upon returning to the United States from West Africa, had been inside her Maine home since being released from New Jersey on Monday. A state trooper had been stationed out front of her home, according to her attorney.
When she arrived in Maine, the state government said it planned to have her quarantined in her home until the window for possible infection had passed. It generally takes up to 21 days for a person who contracts Ebola to become symptomatic, and a person with Ebola can only be contagious when they are symptomatic; Hickox, who has been back in the United States for nearly a week, said she has not had a fever or any other symptoms so far.
Hickox wasn’t so interested in being quarantined again, though.
“I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines,” she told the Today Show on Wednesday. “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.”
On Thursday, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) said that the state had tried to work with Hickox on a way for her to be quarantined at home but also able to take walks or go on bike rides without interacting closely with the public.
“As a result of the failed effort to reach an agreement, the Governor will exercise the full extent of his authority allowable by law,” his office said in a statement.
While his office did not state what that would entail, the state has previously said that with Hickox unwilling to abide by the voluntary quarantine, officials were looking into how to get legal authority — a court order, in other words — to enforce the quarantine.
Hickox has become the central figure in an ongoing debate over how the government will deal with health-care workers who return to the United States after working in the Ebola-ravaged part of West Africa. Her quarantine in New Jersey began the same day that state and New York announced mandatory quarantines for returning health-care workers, a measure that went beyond what had been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical experts.
These measures were criticized by public-health experts, medical organizations and the White House, which resulted in both New York and New Jersey relaxing their rules and actions. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Hickox have been essentially arguing across the media, but ultimately the governor and his state relented and let Hickox leave after saying she was symptom-free for 24 hours, a time frame that the state has still not explained.
President Obama on Wednesday dismissed calls for quarantines and more aggressive travel restrictions. He said that the people who serve in West Africa “deserve our gratitude and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
The public-health experts who have come out against mandatory quarantines have argued that these measures could deter other medical workers from traveling to West Africa, which could hinder the response to the outbreak and potentially lead to more cases.
Doctors Without Borders, which has operated at the front lines of the Ebola epidemic, said in a statement Wednesday it “strongly disagrees with blanket forced quarantine,” arguing that such measures go against established science and the advice of public health experts.
[This post has been updated with LePage’s new comments Thursday.]