Nurse: No option but to fight Ebola quarantine
03 November 2014, 08:27
Fort Kent - A nurse who successfully fought a state quarantine for health care workers who have treated Ebola patients, said she had no option but to challenge how medical professionals were being treated and is hopeful that others who return from West Africa won't face the same reaction.
Kaci Hickox said in an interview with the Maine Sunday Telegram that she was fighting for the rights of other US medical workers who are trying to bring the deadly outbreak under control in West Africa.
After she arrived in Maine last week, state health officials went to court in an attempt to bar her from crowded public places. A judge ruled on Friday she must continue daily monitoring of her health, but can go wherever she pleases. Maine Governor Paul LePage said he disagreed with the ruling, but would abide by it.
"I hope in six months aid workers returning back can be unnoticed," Hickox told the newspaper. "They won't be in the media like I was, I hope. And they can walk into a grocery store and maybe no one even knows they were working in a country with Ebola, but one day I hope everyone can know and still smile at them in the grocery store. I know that won't happen today."
Hickox, 33, told the newspaper that she will respect the wishes of town residents and avoid going into town during the illness's 21-day incubation period, which for her ends 10 November. She was criticized by some who said she wasn't considering the public's well-being by resisting the quarantine.
"I didn't mean to bring this media storm onto this community, either, but I think unfortunately sometimes, especially when up against governors, you don't always have an option," she said. "I don't feel like I was given an option."
Hickox is originally from Rio Vista, Texas, and worked in Indonesia, Burma, the Darfur region of Sudan and Nigeria before returning to the US to earn masters' degrees in public health and nursing. She went to Sierra Leone this summer with Doctors Without Borders when the Ebola outbreak erupted.
She told the paper that she didn't count the number of people who died, only the number of survivors: 39 during her time. But she still remembers the victims. On her last night in the country, she treated a little girl who didn't survive.
"I don't remember her exact age. I think she was 10, but to watch a 10-year-old die alone, in a tent and know there wasn't anything you could do. It's hard," she said.
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Hickox contended that the state's confining her to her home in what it called a voluntary quarantine violated her rights and was unsupported by science. She defied the restrictions twice, once to go on a bike ride and once to talk to the media and shake a reporter's hand.
In his ruling, the judge thanked Hickox for her service in Africa and acknowledged the gravity of restricting someone's constitutional rights without solid science to back it up.
Hickox's quarantine in Maine - and, before that, in New Jersey for several days in a tent by a Newark hospital, upon her arrival back in the US - led humanitarian groups, the White House and many scientists to warn that automatically quarantining medical workers could discourage volunteers from going to West Africa, where nearly 5 000 people have died from Ebola.