Maine Ebola Nurse 'Humbled' by Judge's Decision to Lift Quarantine
FORT KENT, Maine - A Maine judge has rejected a request by state officials to restrict the activities of a Fort Kent nurse who recently returned from Sierra Leone, where she treated Ebola patients. Kaci Hickox and her attorneys argue the restrictions are unnecessary because she is asymptomatic and therefore not contagious. The judge agreed that the state has not met its burden to show why she's a public health threat.
In his order, Chief District Judge Charles LaVerdiere acknowledged that his decision has critical implications for Hickox's freedom as guaranteed under the U.S. and Maine Constitutions, and for the public's right to be protected from the transmission of Ebola. LaVerdiere agreed that because Hickox is not showing symptoms she is not infectious.
"The State has not met its burden at this time to prove by clear and convincing evidence that limiting Respondent's movements to the degree requested is necessary to protect other individuals from the dangers of infection," the judge wrote.
From her home in Fort Kent, Hickox welcomed the ruling as a good compromise. "I am humbled today by the judge's decision, and even more humbled by the support that we have received from the town of Fort Kent, the state of Maine, across the U.S. and even across the globe," she said.
Speaking with reporters, Hickox called it a "really good decision" that offers human treatment to health care workers coming back after working to fight a terrible disease. The judge's order requires Hickox to submit to active monitoring as defined by the federal Centers for Disease Control, to coordinate her travel with public health authorities and to immediately notify them if she gets sick.
"I have been compliant with the direct active monitoring that the CDC recommends," she said. "I will continue to be compliant. And yeah, it's just a good day."
The state had sought a court order to prevent Hickox from going out in public, something national and state health organizations said was not based in science and apt to create more fear among the public.
"Nobody can catch this from her by being near her," says Maine Attorney General Janet Mills. Mills presented the state's arguments to the judge. But she agrees the judge's ruling is a good one, since Ebola cannot be transmitted except during its active stage through direct physical contact with bodily fluids. "This is something that's really not very contagious compared to other diseases we know about, like flu and tuberculosis."
Rational minds, says Mills, should prevail based on medical science. Gov. Paul LePage says he'll go along with the judge's order, but says he's concerned about its leniency because he says he doesn't trust Hickox. "I can't trust her. I don't trust her," LePage said at a press event today. "And I don't trust that we know enough about this disease to be so callous."
In his order, Judge LaVerdiere points out that 90 percent of Ebola cases develop symptoms during the second week after last exposure. Hickox entered that second week starting Oct. 28. Her 21-day incubation period expires Nov. 10.
But the judge also acknowledged that people are acting out of fear around Ebola. And LaVerdiere says even if that fear is irrational, Hickox, as a health care professional, should guide herself accordingly.
Hickox says she understands. "I think, so far, Ted and I have shown a lot of respect to this community. We care about the community. You know, I'm a nurse and a public health worker. I don't want to make people uncomfortable."
Hickox said she had no response to Gov. LePage, who earlier this week said she was not "acting smart" and accused her "riling people up." Since she returned home earlier this week, she's only left her home once to go on a bike ride with her boyfriend.
When asked if she will go out in public, Hickox says she's taking things "minute by minute." Her immediate plans for Halloween are to get her boyfriend to cook her favorite Japanese meal and to watch a scary movie. It's possible there will be a hearing to continue the judge's order next Tuesday.