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Maine Nurse Released from New Jersey Will Finish Ebola Quarantine in Fort Kent

A nurse from Fort Kent who was the first to be quarantined for Ebola under a mandatory policy in New Jersey will finish her quarantine in Maine. Kaci Hickox was held in isolation through the weekend in New Jersey after returning from a month-long trip to treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. New Jersey officials, sharply criticized for Hickox's treatment, discharged her this afternoon and allowed her to fly to Maine by private transport. MPBN'S Patty Wight talks with Nora Flaherty about the latest developments in the case.

 

Nora Flaherty:  So, Patty, how will the Maine Center for Disease Control monitor Kaci Hickox?

Patty Wight: The Maine CDC says the protocol for Kaci Hickox - someone who came into direct contact with Ebola patients but is not currently showing any symptoms herself - is in home quarantine. They say they expect Hickox to voluntarily comply with the quarantine, which runs for 21 days after her last possible exposure to Ebola.

While she's in quarantine, Hickox is required to take her temperature twice daily and report that to the Maine CDC. She's also required to notify the CDC immediately if she starts showing any Ebola symptoms - things like headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, or abnormal bleeding.

Nora Flaherty: So where exactly is Hickox going to be?

Patty Wight: In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Hickox said she just wanted to go home to her partner - she's got a boyfriend who is a nursing student at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. We don't know exactly where she will be staying.

Nora Flaherty: What do we know about Kaci Hickox?

Patty Wight: Hickox is a nurse. She's originally from Texas but has recently been living in Fort Kent. About a month ago she went to Sierra Leone with the group Doctors Without Borders to treat patients with Ebola. And from a statement she said in that interview with CNN and an essay she wrote for the Dallas Morning News she's said that her time in Sierra Leone was one of the most difficult months of her life. She said she saw children die alone - including her last night there, and it was just a month of watching tragedy unfold before her eyes.

And when she came back to the U.S., she says instead of being treated with compassion and humanity, she was treated like a criminal and a prisoner. Now, she landed in Newark on the first day of New Jersey's mandatory 21-day quarantine policy for health care workers who have treated Ebola patients. She had no idea there was a quarantine. She was held for hours at the airport, then she was moved to an isolation tent inside a hospital and says she had no idea what the plan was for her. She described the whole thing as a frenzy of disorganization and fear and has said the quarantine policy could very well discourage other health care workers from going to West Africa to fight Ebola.

I should also mention that Hickox did threaten to sue New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and was working with a civil rights lawyer, and it's unclear at this point if she plans to go forward with a lawsuit.

Nora Flaherty: And the important fact of Hickox's situation is that she does not have any Ebola symptoms, correct?

Patty Wight:  Right. Because with Ebola, a person is not infectious until they have symptoms. You can only get Ebola through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids when someone is showing symptoms.

Nora Flaherty: If Hickox does develop symtoms, the local hospital in Fort Kent - Northern Maine Medical Center - says they're ready to care for her?

Patty Wight: Yes - hospital officials actually issued a press release last week saying they've activated their Emergency Response Team. That team is reviewing policies and procedures and they're doing multiple mandatory Ebola trainings for staff.

Nora Flaherty: The Maine CDC says it is monitoring one individual for Ebola, yes?

Patty Wight: Yes. There is a traveler who did not come into direct contact with Ebola patients who is contacting the CDC daily to report their temperature and any possible Ebola symptoms.

Nora Flaherty: All right Patty, thanks.