By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times (MCT)
A judge rejected a bid by Maine to restrict the movements of Kaci Hickox, the nurse who treated Ebola patients in Africa and who has defied state quarantine efforts.
In a ruling released Friday, Judge Charles C. LaVerdiere turned down the state’s request to strictly limit Hickox’s movements. The nurse had argued that since she had no symptoms of Ebola, it would violate her freedom to put her in quarantine.
“I am very satisfied with the decision,” Hickox said during a televised news conference from her home in Fort Kent, Maine, shortly after the ruling was released.
Maine had argued that a quarantine and limits were needed to protect public health, a position the judge said had not been proven.
“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. “According to the information presented by the court, Respondent currently does not show any symptoms of Ebola and is therefore not infectious.”
If Hickox does show symptoms, the judge said it would then become necessary to isolate the nurse.
On Thursday, LaVerdiere temporarily restricted Hickox’s movements, limiting her travel and banning her from public places, as the state had requested.
The current ruling supersedes the earlier order and will be in effect until a full hearing on the issue. The court papers set no specific date for a full hearing, but they noted that such a proceeding must be held “no less than three days and not more than ten days” from Thursday.
The latest ruling orders Hickox to cooperate with direct active monitoring of her temperature, a practice she said Friday she is already following. She was also asked to coordinate her travel with public health officials and immediately notify the state if she develops symptoms.
But the judge rejected the stricter conditions sought by Maine public officials, including that Hickox be barred from long-distance commercial or local public travel. The state also unsuccessfully sought to bar her from public places.
Hickox has been staying in her rural hometown at the northern tip of the state. She has left the house at least twice, once to speak to reporters and the other time to take a bicycle ride with her boyfriend.
State police had been at the house, but no action was taken earlier to detain her, Fort Kent Police Chief Tom Pelletier told the Los Angeles Times. He said he had talked briefly with Hickox on Friday.
Hickox became the face of the latest legal battle over Ebola when she arrived last week in New Jersey, where she was detained in a tent at University Hospital in Newark. In media interviews she repeatedly protested the conditions at the hospital and her mandatory quarantine. She and other medical experts have said such isolation was not based on science.
After being released from her confinement in Newark, Hickcox returned to Fort Kent where her battle with Maine has been unfolding this week.
Maine originally sought a more draconian form of quarantine, beyond the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hickox remains at risk of being infected with Ebola until the end of a 21-day incubation period, Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote in the court papers.
“It is my opinion that the respondent should be subjected to an appropriate public health order for mandatory direct active monitoring and restrictions on movement as soon as possible and until the end of the incubation period … to protect the public health and safety,” she stated.
In the original petition, Maine followed the federal CDC recommendations, but also noted that the CDC allows states assess each case and seek tougher standards if it wants.
Among the specific restrictions Maine sought were to have any travel by Hickox coordinated with state health officials and barring her barred from long-distance commercial or local public travel.
In his ruling, LaVerdiere praised Hickox for her generosity and her compassion in traveling to Sierra Leone to treat Ebola cases.
“We need to remember as we go through this matter that we owe her and all professionals who give of themselves in this way a debt of gratitude,” he wrote.
The judge also warned Hickox that fear of the disease exists and while it may not be rational, it is real in society.
Hickox “should guide herself accordingly,” he wrote.
AFP Photo/Spencer Platt