Ebola health-care workers need support, Obama says, as nurse plans to end quarantine

U.S. President Barack Obama called health-care workers who are heading to Ebola-affected countries “American heroes” who “deserve to be treated with dignity and respect” amid a dispute between a nurse and Maine officials over their insistence she remain in isolation.

State police monitoring home where nurse is in voluntary isolation

Ebola suvivor Dr. Kent Brantly, left, is greeted by U.S. President Barack Obamaprior to the president delivering a statement about the government's Ebola response on Wednesday afternoon. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

U.S. President Barack Obama called health-care workers who are heading to Ebola-affected countries "American heroes" who "deserve to be treated with dignity and respect" amid a dispute between a nurse and Maine officials over their insistence she remain in isolation.

Obama spoke Wednesday afternoon about America’s efforts to fight against the largest Ebola outbreak in history. He stressed the importance of stopping the outbreak at its source in West Africa.

He stressed it was important to encourage the health-care workers who are making sacrifices to travel to Ebola-affected countries and help deal with the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. If Americans discourage these efforts, he said, they are not protecting their own health and safety.

"I do want Americans to understand why this is so important. This is not just charity," said Obama.

"This is also practical. It has to do with our own self-interest. If we are not dealing with this problem there, it will come here."

Obama thanked the efforts of all health-care workers who have returned from their mission trips, are preparing to leave or are currently in West Africa.

Nurse threatens to end quarantine

He thanked nurse Kaci Hickox and her team, who treated Ebola patients in West Africa.

Hickox said Wednesday that she plans to end her voluntary isolation in Maine. Her statement could lead to a potential showdown with state officials who have vowed to enforce a mandatory quarantine.

State officials are seeking legal authority to enforce her quarantine, Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday.

State police are monitoring the Fort Kent home where nurse Kaci Hickox is under voluntary quarantine, LePage added. That was to ensure her protection as well as the safety of the community, he said.

Hickox told NBC's Today show and ABC's Good Morning America that she has so far abided by the state's voluntary quarantine. She said she had no contact with anyone Tuesday and will have no human contact again Wednesday. But she said she will take action if the policy isn't changed by Thursday.

"I don't plan on sticking to the guidelines," Hickox said on Today. "I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me even though I am in perfectly good health."

Her lawyer told The Associated Press that Hickox isn't willing to co-operate further unless the state lifts "all or most of the restrictions," which LePage said was disappointing.

Nurse Kaci Hickox, who cared for Ebola patients in West Africa, has been following a voluntary quarantine in Maine, but says there is no justification to keep her in isolation. (University of Texas at Arlington/Associated Press)
"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," LePage said in a statement. "We are very concerned about her safety and health and that of the community."

Hickox, who volunteered in Africa 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 sharply criticized for ordering mandatory quarantines for health-care workers like Hickox who've shown no symptoms of Ebola. Now in Maine, Hickox arrived Tuesday night at the off-campus home of her boyfriend, who's a senior nursing student at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

"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.

Norman Siegel, one of her lawyers, said he remains hopeful the state will ease its restrictions. If not, then the state would have to go to court, and Siegel would challenge the state's action, he said.

"Our position is very simple. There's no justification for the state of Maine to quarantine her. 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," he said.

With files from CBC News