FORT KENT, Maine — Maine health officials obtained a 24-hour court order restricting Kaci Hickox’s movement after the nurse repeatedly defied the state’s quarantine for medical workers who have treated Ebola patients.
A judge granted the order limiting Hickox’s travel, requiring a three-foot buffer if she encounters people, and banning her from public places until there’s a further decision Oct. 31.
The state went to court, following through with a threat to try to impose restrictions on her until the 21-day incubation period for Ebola ends on Nov. 10. In court documents, the judge indicated further action was anticipated Oct. 31.
Police were under orders to monitor the movements of the nurse who twice left home, once to talk to reporters Oct. 29 and again for a bike ride with her boyfriend on Oct. 30.
A state police cruiser remained outside her home Oct. 31. Fort Kent Police Chief Tom Pelletier went inside the home briefly Friday morning and said afterward, “We just had a good conversation.” He said he was not there to arrest or detain her.
The legal action is shaping up as the nation’s biggest test case yet in the struggle to balance public health and fear of Ebola against personal freedom.
In a court filing, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention backed away from the state’s original request for an in-home quarantine and called for restrictions that fall in line with federal guidelines.
Hickox remains at risk of being infected with Ebola until the end of a 21-day incubation period, Dr. Sheila Pinette.
“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 wrote.
Hickox, who treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, says confinement violates her rights. She says that she has no symptoms and poses no risk to the public.
Hickox, 33, 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 being released from a hospital there, she returned to this small town, where she was placed under what Maine authorities called a voluntary quarantine.
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’m not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it’s not science-based,” she said Oct. 29.
Some states like Maine 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.
“These kinds of restrictions could dissuade hundreds, if not thousands, of skilled volunteers from helping stop Ebola’s spread, which is in the national interest of every one of our countries,” Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in Brussels.
By Robert F. Bukaty. AP writer David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report