The standoff between so-called Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox and state authorities in Maine took an unexpected turn Friday when a judge rejected arguments by the state that Hickox’s quarantine was necessary to ensure public health. The decision reflected guidelines put out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how to handle someone who may have been exposed to the virus but is asymptomatic, and it marked a departure from the judge’s ruling Thursday to maintain the quarantine, according to the New York Times.
“The state has not met its burden at this time to prove by clear and convincing evidence that limiting [Hickox]’s movements to the degree requested is ‘necessary to protect other individuals from the dangers of infection,’” the Los Angeles Times quoted Maine District Court Chief Judge Charles LaVerdiere as ruling Friday. “[Hickox] currently does not show symptoms of Ebola and is therefore not infectious.” State troopers stationed outside the Fort Kent home of Hickox’s boyfriend, where the nurse has been staying, left within an hour of the judge’s decision.
“I am very satisfied with the decision,” Hickox said shortly after the ruling was released. However, the order requires Hickox to avoid public places, limit her movements and submit to daily monitoring to detect any sign of the disease. She must also maintain a three-foot distance from other people. In addition, the judge required Hickox to immediately disclose any symptoms that might develop and to notify public-health officials in case she plans to travel.
Hickox’s case has pitted Maine state authorities who have argued the nurse posed a threat to public safety against federal health officials who have said Hickox does not pose an immediate danger to those around her. The deadlock became a debate about individual rights versus the state’s right to quarantine people who may spread an infectious disease. “My duty to protect the health of the individual, as well as the health and safety of 1.3 million Mainers, is my highest priority,” Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, said in a statement issued in response to the judge’s ruling Friday. “Despite our best effort to work collaboratively with this individual, she has refused to cooperate with us. I have done everything I can to protect the health and safety of Mainers. The judge has eased restrictions with this ruling, and I believe it is unfortunate. However, the state will abide by law,” he said.
Hickox arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey Oct. 24 after treating Ebola virus disease patients in West Africa, where the outbreak has infected more 13,000 people and killed nearly 5,000. The nurse was initially quarantined at a hospital in Newark, where she spent three days inside a tent. However, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie later released Hickox after she complained publicly about the conditions of her isolation. She tested negative for Ebola while being held in New Jersey.