Kaci Hickox, Maine nurse defying Ebola quarantine, set for standoff with state

Maine health authorities struggled Thursday to reach a compromise with nurse Kaci Hickox that would require her to keep her distance from other people, in the nation's most closely watched clash between personal freedom and fear of Ebola.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage said negotiations with Hickox and her lawyers broke down

Ignoring a quarantine

9 years ago
Duration 2:24
Nurse defies Maine's Ebola quarantine by taking a bike ride

Maine health authorities struggled Thursday to reach a compromise with nurse Kaci Hickox that would require her to keep her distance from other people, in the nation's most closely watched clash between personal freedom and fear of Ebola.

Hickox, 33, stepped out of her home in remote northern Maine for the second day in a row and went on a morning bike ride with her boyfriend, practically daring authorities to go to court to have her confined against her will, as they threatened to do for days.

But by late afternoon, the legal showdown had yet to take place.

Hickox, who returned to the U.S. last week from treating Ebola victims in West Africa as a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders, has been under what Maine has called a voluntary quarantine at her home in this town of 4,300 people.

Nurse Kaci Hickox rides away from the home she is staying in on a rural road in Fort Kent, Me., to take an hour-long bike ride on Thursday with her boyfriend Ted Wilbur. (Robert F. Bukaty Associated Press)
She has rebelled against the restrictions on her movements, saying that her rights are being violated and that she is no threat to others because she has no symptoms. She tested negative last weekend for Ebola, though it can take days for the virus to reach detectable levels.

Her 21-day quarantine — the incubation period for the Ebola virus — is scheduled to end on Nov. 10.

Governor wants to 'assure' public health

Gov. Paul LePage said a scaled-down quarantine that was discussed by Hickox's lawyer and state attorneys would have allowed her to go for walks, runs and bicycle rides while preventing her from going into public places or coming within about a metre of others.

But around midday, LePage said that the hours of negotiations had gone nowhere, and that he was prepared to use the full extent of his authority to protect the public.

"I was ready and willing — and remain ready and willing — to reasonably address the needs of health care workers meeting guidelines to assure the public health is protected," he said.

Nurse Kaci Hickox says a mandatory quarantine not based on scientific principles violates her fundamental rights and will dissuade others from volunteering to help in West Africa. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)
Hickox stepped into the media glare when she returned from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone to become subject to a mandatory quarantine in New Jersey. After an uproar, she was released and travelled nearly 1,000 kilometres to the small town close to the Canadian border where she lives with her boyfriend.

She said she is following the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of daily monitoring for fever and other signs of the disease.

'I really hope that we can work things out'

An unmarked state police cruiser followed Hickox on her hour-long bike ride on trails near her home, but police could not take action to detain her without a court order signed by a judge.

"I really hope that we can work things out amicably and continue to negotiate," she said.

States have broad authority under long-established law to quarantine people to prevent the spread of disease. But legal experts said there are differences here that could work in Hickox's favour in court: People infected with Ebola are not contagious until they have symptoms, and the virus is not spread through casual contact.

Nurse Kaci Hickox, right, and her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur were followed by a Maine State Trooper. State officials are going to court to keep Hickox in quarantine for the remainder of the 21-day incubation period for Ebola that ends on Nov. 10. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

Some states like Maine, New York and New Jersey are going above and beyond the CDC guidelines to require quarantines. So is the U.S military.

President Barack Obama, the nation's top infectious-disease expert and humanitarian groups have warned that overly restrictive measures could cripple the fight against the disease at its source by discouraging volunteers like Hickox from going to West Africa, where the outbreak has sickened more than 13,000 people and killed nearly 5,000 of them.

"The volunteers are heroes to the people they help, and they are heroes to our own countries. They should be treated like heroes when they return," Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the UN, said in Brussels.

'She has an important voice'

In Maine, state law allows a judge to confine someone if health officials demonstrate "a clear and immediate public health threat."

If a judge grants the request, Hickox will appeal on constitutional grounds, said Norman Siegel, one of her attorneys.

Siegel said the nurse hopes her fight against the quarantine will help bring an end to misinformation about how Ebola is spread.

"She wants to have her voice in the debate about how America handles the Ebola crisis. She has an important voice and perspective," he said.

Word spread quickly around the town about Hickox.

Priscilla Staples said that some are fearful of Hickox's presence, but Hickox "has done nothing wrong, and she has every right in the world to go for a bike ride."

With files from Reuters