A judge who had temporarily agreed to quarantine Kaci Hickox, a Maine nurse who had treated Ebola patients, ruled Friday that she did not have to have her movements restricted.
The state of Maine had won a small, brief victory in its quest to quarantine Hickox, as Judge Cearles C. LaVerdiere on Thursday ordered her to limit her movements and keep a certain distance from members of the public. This order was to stand until the court issued any additional guidance, which LaVerdiere did Friday.
LaVerdiere said Friday that Hickox should continue daily monitoring and coordinate any travel with public-health officials, but said that her movements did not have to be completely restricted.
Limiting her movements to the degree requested by the state is not necessary because Hickox has no symptoms of Ebola and is not symptomatic, LaVerdiere wrote. He ordered her to alert public-health authorities if any symptoms emerge.
Maine’s governor begrudgingly accepted the order on Friday.
“As governor, I have done everything I can to protect the health and safety of Mainers,” Gov. Paul LePage (R) said in a statement Friday. “The judge has eased restrictions with this ruling and I believe it is unfortunate. However, the state will abide by law.”
Before Friday’s decision, LaVerdiere had issued a temporary order saying that Hickox has to submit to “direct active monitoring” as well as stay away from public places. It also said that Hickox has to stay three feet away from people while she is walking, riding a bike or jogging.
Hickox, who recently returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa, has vowed to fight any court order, saying such a move is unnecessary and would violate her civil rights. She has pointed out that she has no symptoms of the disease – Ebola is transmitted only after symptoms appear – and has been monitoring herself daily in accordance with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In its request asking for the court to limit her movement, the state had argued that the time most patients develop Ebola is during the second week of the virus’s 21-day incubation period. Hickox currently would be in that period if she had been exposed to Ebola, state health commissioner Mary Mayhew argues.
“The surest way to minimize the public health threat is direct active monitoring and additional restrictions on movement and exposure to other persons or the public until a potentially exposed person has passed the incubation period,” the filing states. For Hickox, that period ends Nov. 10.
On Thursday, not long after Hickox took a highly-publicized hour-long bike ride, LePage 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. However, he said that the negotiations with Hickox had failed.
“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.
Hickox has become the central figure in the 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. Before being allowed to return to Maine, she had been under quarantine in New Jersey, which she criticized during a back-and-forth with Gov. Chris Christie (R).
Public-health experts and medical organizations have criticized calls for quarantining aid workers who return from West Africa, arguing that such quarantines would be unnecessary and could deter people from volunteering to fight the Ebola epidemic there. 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.”
On Friday, LaVerdiere wrote that Hickox “generously, kindly and with compassion” cared for people with Ebola, saying that gratitude is owed to people like her. Still, while he said there are many misconceptions about Ebola and “not entirely rational fear” surrounding the disease in the United States, he said Hickox should remember that this fear is exist before acting.
In its earlier filing asking for the judge to restrict her movements, Maine essentially requested that Hickox be forced to follow the CDC’s recommendations for people returning from West Africa with “some risk,” which would include health-care workers who have treated Ebola patients while wearing protective gear.
That category of people, the CDC says, should be under “direct active monitoring” for 21 days, which means being observed at least once per day by a health official, with a second daily follow-up by phone. The idea is to ensure that if a person does become symptomatic, he or she could quickly be isolated and evaluated for Ebola.
The CDC also suggest public health authorities assess whether a certain case warrants additional restrictions on movement, which in Hickox’s case Maine argued is valid, given her close contact with Ebola patients.