Quarantined nurse leaves New Jersey for Maine

FILE. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

FORT KENT, Maine (AP) — A nurse who worked in West Africa with Ebola patients and was quarantined at a New Jersey hospital over the weekend was returning home to Maine on Monday as her lawyer criticized the state’s policies that had her fighting to be released from an isolation tent. Health officials said Saturday that nurse Kaci Hickox tested negative for Ebola. Hickox left a hospital Monday afternoon, to be taken to Maine, where she lives. Hickox called her treatment “inhumane” and “completely unacceptable” after she became the first person forced into New Jersey’s mandatory quarantine, announced Friday by Gov. Chris Christie for people arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport from three West African countries. Prominent New York civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, hired by Hickox while she was quarantined, said he has not ruled out legal action.

“We are pleased that the state of New Jersey has decided to release Kaci. They had no justification to confine her,” Siegel said. “We are figuring out how to amplify Kaci’s voice on this issue. We have to figure out if that is through the courts of law or through the court of public opinion.”

Hickox agreed to be quarantined at her home in Fort Kent, but another of her lawyers and state officials disagreed over how long she’ll have to stay out of public places. Hickox’s partner is a University of Maine at Fort Kent nursing student who lives off campus. There was no sign of her there late Monday, and the home was dark inside.

Maine officials announced that Hickox would be quarantined at home for 21 days after the last possible exposure to the disease under state health protocols. But lawyer Steven Hyman said he expected Hickox to remain in seclusion for the “next day or so” while he works with state health officials. He said he believes the state should follow federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that require only monitoring, not quarantine, for health care workers who show no symptoms after treating Ebola patients.

Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo jointly announced the quarantine policy on Friday. But over the weekend, President Barack Obama’s administration condemned the mandatory quarantines. Late Sunday night, Cuomo and Christie stressed separately that the policies allowed for home confinement for medical workers who have had contact with Ebola patients if the workers show no symptoms.

Under New Jersey’s protocol, state residents who come into contact with someone with Ebola would be subject to a mandatory, 21-day quarantine at home, even if they had no symptoms. Non-residents who landed in the state would be taken home if feasible or otherwise quarantined in New Jersey.

Christie denied going against his policy by releasing Hickox. He tweeted Monday: “I did not reverse any decision in this case.” Neither Christie’s office nor a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health answered questions Monday about the mechanics of the quarantine, and they have not said whether there’s a written policy laying out the state’s protocol in more detail.

A Department of Health spokeswoman referred to a state law that established the department’s authority to quarantine people. But the law does not spell out how that would be enforced.

In a telephone interview Saturday with CNN, Hickox said she did not initially have a shower, flushable toilet, television or reading material in the special tent she was in at University Hospital in Newark.

The Department of Health said in a news release that Hickox was being discharged Monday because she had been symptom-free for 24 hours. Hickox wrote in a first-person account Saturday in The Dallas Morning News that her temperature was normal Friday when measured by an oral thermometer at the hospital and she only showed a higher temperature when measured with a forehead scanner.

Hickox did not immediately return a phone call or email seeking comment from The Associated Press.

Christie said Monday that his priority is protecting the health of people in his state.

“I understand that she didn’t want to be there. She made that very clear from the beginning,” Christie said during a campaign event for Florida Gov. Rick Scott in Wellington, Florida. “But my obligation is to all the people of New Jersey, and we’re just going to continue to do that.”


Porter reported from Newark, New Jersey. Associated Press writers Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, New Jersey; David Sharp in Portland, Maine; and Matt Sedensky, in Wellington, Florida, contributed to this report.

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