Oct 29, 2014 6:19 PM

Maine can't hold Ebola nurse without judge's order

The Associated Press

FORT KENT, Maine (AP) Maine health officials say until a judge signs off on a court order they don't have the authority to prevent a nurse who treated Ebola patients in West Africa from leaving her home.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew says state police will monitor nurse Kaci Hickox's movements if she leaves her house. But Hickox can't be detained without a judge's approval.

Hickox has shown no symptoms of Ebola. She has been abiding by the state's voluntary quarantine but says she'll stop doing so Thursday. That sets up a showdown with the state, which wants her quarantined for 21 days.

Hickox was the first person forced into New Jersey's mandatory quarantine after arriving at an airport there. She's now in Fort Kent, near the Canadian border.

Mayhew says Maine's request for the court order could be filed by Wednesday night.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A nurse who treated Ebola patients in West Africa said Wednesday she plans to stop quarantining herself in rural Maine, signaling a potential showdown with state police monitoring her home and state officials preparing to legally enforce the quarantine.

Kaci Hickox, who has shown no symptoms of Ebola, told NBC's "Today" show and ABC's "Good Morning America" she was abiding by the state's voluntary quarantine by having no contact with people Tuesday and Wednesday. But she said she'll defy the state if the policy isn't changed by Thursday.

"I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me even though I am in perfectly good health," Hickox said on "Today."

Her lawyer Norman Siegel told The Associated Press she isn't willing to cooperate further unless the state lifts "all or most of the restrictions."

Gov. Paul LePage said he was seeking legal authority to keep her in isolation.

"We hoped that the health care worker would voluntarily comply with these protocols, but this individual has stated publicly she will not abide by the protocols. We are very concerned about her safety and health and that of the community," said LePage, who canceled his campaign events to follow the developments.

If the state goes to court, the case could serve as a test as to the legality of state quarantines during the Ebola scare.

Generally, 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 Worcester, 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.

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.

Hickox, who volunteered in Sierra Leone with Doctors Without Borders, was the first person forced into New Jersey's mandatory quarantine for people arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport from three West African countries.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were criticized for ordering mandatory quarantines as Hickox spent the weekend in a tent.

Hickox arrived Tuesday in Maine at the home of her boyfriend, a senior nursing student at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. The 21-day incubation period from her last exposure to Ebola will end Nov. 10, but she doesn't want to wait that long.

"I am not going to sit around and be bullied by politicians and forced to stay in my home when I am not a risk to the American public," she said.

Fort Kent is in far northern Maine, across the river from Canada, and has 4,300 residents. About 1,000 students attend the university.

Across the country, litigation seems unavoidable as health officials grapple with how to manage Ebola public health concerns.

Some states, including Maine, are going above and beyond guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommend only regular monitoring, not quarantine, for health care workers who have come into contact with Ebola patients.

LePage commended all health care workers who have volunteered in Africa to treat Ebola patients and said he had hoped Hickox would voluntarily comply with Maine's restrictions.

"While we certainly respect the rights of one individual, we must be vigilant in protecting 1.3 million Mainers as well as anyone who visits our great state," he said.

Siegel said he remained hopeful the state will ease its restrictions. If not, then the state would have to go to court, and Hickox would challenge the state's actions, he said.

"Our position is very simple: There's no justification for the state of Maine to quarantine her," he said. "She has no symptoms, and therefore she's not contagious. And she's not at a risk to the public or the health and welfare of people in the state of Maine."


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