FORT KENT, Maine (AP) — A nurse defied Maine’s voluntary quarantine for health care workers who have treated Ebola patients, leaving her home Thursday for a bike ride. The governor of Main said negotiations with the nurse have broken down and he is ready to exercise the “full extent” of this authority to protect the public.
Kaci Hickox stepped out of her home in remote Maine for the second day in a row and rode away on her bicycle with her boyfriend, the pair followed by state police who were monitoring her movements and public interactions. The episode has become evidence of what’s shaping up to be the nation’s most closely watched confrontation between personal freedom and Ebola fears. Police couldn’t detain Hickox without a court order signed by a judge.
By evening, it was unclear whether the state had gone to court or whether there had been any progress toward ending the standoff. The governor’s office and Hickox’s lawyers would not comment.
Hickox, who volunteered in Sierra Leone with Doctors Without Borders, contends there’s no need for quarantine because she’s showing no symptoms. She’s also tested negative for the deadly disease, though it can take days for the virus to reach detectable levels.
State officials were going to court in an effort to detain Hickox for the remainder of the 21-day incubation period for Ebola that ends on Nov. 10
Gov. Paul LePage said the state was willing to agree to arrangements that would have allowed Hickox to go for walks, runs and bicycle rides while preventing her from going into public places or coming within 3 feet (less than a meter) of others. But the governor said those discussions failed.
Hickox, 33, told reporters that she hoped for a compromise with health officials, but her actions indicated she had no intention of remaining in isolation.
“I really hope that we can work things out amicably and continue to negotiate,” she said as she and her boyfriend rode on a dirt path in this small town of 4,300 people.
It was the second time Hickox broke quarantine. She left her home Wednesday evening briefly to speak to reporters, even shaking a hand that was offered to her.
After returning from Africa, Hickox stepped into the media glare last week when she became subject of a mandatory quarantine in New Jersey.
After being released from a hospital there, she returned to this small town, where she was placed under what Maine authorities called a voluntary quarantine.
She said she is following the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of daily monitoring. But she said she is no threat to others because she has no symptoms.
“I’m not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it’s not science-based,” she said Wednesday evening.
States have broad authority when it comes to such matters. But Maine health officials could have a tough time convincing a judge that Hickox poses a threat, said attorney Jackie L. Caynon III, who specializes in health law in Massachusetts.
“If somebody isn’t showing signs of the infection, then it’s kind of hard to say someone should be under mandatory quarantine,” he said.
In other developments:
- Ebola fears infected a medical conference on the subject. Louisiana state health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical-diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.
- Liberia is making some progress in containing the outbreak, while Sierra Leone is “in a crisis situation which is going to get worse,” the top anti-Ebola officials in the two countries said.
- The World Bank announced it will give an additional $100 million to help bring in more foreign health workers. That raises the money it has given to the fight to $500 million.
Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, has killed thousands of people in Africa, but only four people have been diagnosed with it in the United States. People can’t be infected just by being near someone who’s sick, and people aren’t contagious unless they’re sick, health officials say.
Guidelines from the CDC recommend daily monitoring for health care workers like Hickox who have come into contact with Ebola patients. But some states like Maine are going above and beyond those guidelines.