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Maine's Ebola protocols mean quarantine for nurse

28 October 2014, 10:11

Fort Kent - A nurse who treated Ebola patients in West Africa agreed to be quarantined at home in Maine upon her return from a weekend of confinement in New Jersey, but her lawyer disagrees with officials over how long she'll have to stay in seclusion.

Nurse Kaci Hickox left a New Jersey hospital on Monday and headed toward home in northern Maine, where her partner is a nursing student at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

Maine health officials announced that she'd be quarantined at home for 21 days after the last possible exposure to the disease under the state's health protocols.

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But one of Hickox's lawyers, Steve Hyman, said he expected her to remain in seclusion for the "next day or so" while he works with Maine health officials. He said he believes the state should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that require only monitoring, not quarantine, for health care workers who show no symptoms after treating Ebola patients.

"She's a very good person who did very good work and deserves to be honored, not detained, for it," he said.

Hickox, who was expected home on Tuesday morning, volunteered in Africa with Doctors Without Borders.

"Inhuman" treatment

She spent the weekend in a quarantine tent at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, despite having no symptoms other than a slightly elevated temperature she blamed on "inhumane" treatment at Newark Liberty International Airport.

She was the first person forced into New Jersey's mandatory quarantine for people arriving at Newark Liberty from three West African countries.

Hickox said she never had symptoms and tested negative for Ebola in a preliminary evaluation. She left New Jersey in a private vehicle on Monday.

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were sharply criticized by health experts for ordering mandatory quarantines. But Christie said Monday that his priority is protecting the health of people in his state.

In Maine, state officials also announced a quarantine.

"Upon the healthcare workers' return home, we will follow the guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for medical workers who have been in contact with Ebola patients," Gov. Paul LePage said in a statement. "Additionally, we will work with the healthcare worker to establish an in-home quarantine protocol to ensure there is no direct contact with other Mainers until the period for potential infection has passed."

But state officials later clarified it was only a voluntary quarantine.

Appropriate action

"We fully expect individuals to voluntarily comply with an in-home quarantine," LePage spokesperson Adrienne Bennett said on Monday. "If an individual is not compliant, the state is prepared to take appropriate action."

Bennett did not immediately say what "appropriate action" might be.

In Fort Kent, Northern Maine Medical Centre is ready to care for an Ebola-infected patient, if necessary, a spokesperson said.

Hickox and her partner, Ted Wilbur, had moved recently to Fort Kent, where Wilbur is a senior nursing student, family members said.

WAGM-TV said Wilbur was given the choice of staying on campus in student housing over the next few weeks or temporarily suspending classes to stay with Hickox in his off-campus home during the quarantine period. A University of Maine system spokesman said he couldn't confirm details of discussions with Wilbur.

Wilbur's uncle Tom Wilbur said that Hickox should be trusted to make good decisions and that medical decisions should be grounded in science and not "hysteria."

"She's very much a professional," he said. "And she's very bright. And if she were running a fever, she would be the first to take action."

- AP

Tags us ebola health

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