Fort Kent - A nurse who treated Ebola patients in West Africa said she plans to end her voluntary quarantine and even stepped outside her home briefly on Wednesday.
Kaci Hickox's words and actions signalled a potential showdown with state police monitoring her home and state officials seeking to legally enforce the quarantine. Police stood across the street and watched as Hickox held an impromptu press conference outside with her boyfriend.
State officials are seeking a court order allowing state troopers to detain Hickox, said department of health and human services commissioner Mary Mayhew.
Hickox, who has shown no symptoms of Ebola, told NBC's Today show and ABC's Good Morning America she was abiding by the state's voluntary quarantine by having no contact with people on Tuesday and Wednesday. But she said she'll defy the state if the policy isn't changed by on Thursday.
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"I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me even though I am in perfectly good health", Hickox said on Today.
Her lawyer Norman Siegel said she isn't willing to co-operate further unless the state lifts "all or most of the restrictions". But state officials continued to assert that she should remain in isolation until 10 November, the end of the 21-day incubation period for Ebola.
A judge would have to grant the state's request in what could serve as a test as to the legality of state quarantines during the Ebola scare.
Until an order is signed by a judge, state police will monitor Hickox's movement and interactions if she leaves her home, Mayhew said.
Generally, states have broad authority when it comes to such matters. But Maine health officials could have a tough time convincing a judge that Hickox poses a threat, said attorney Jackie L Caynon III, who specialises in health law in Worcester, Massachusetts.
"If somebody isn't showing signs of the infection, then it's kind of hard to say someone should be under mandatory quarantine", he said.
Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, has killed thousands of people in Africa, but only four people have been diagnosed with it in the United States.
People can't be infected just by being near someone who's sick, and people aren't contagious unless they're sick, health officials say.
Guidelines from the federal centres for disease control and prevention recommend monitoring for health care workers like Hickox who have come into contact with Ebola patients. But some states, including Maine, are going above and beyond guidelines.
Hickox, who volunteered in Sierra Leone with Doctors Without Borders, was the first person forced into New Jersey's mandatory quarantine for people arriving at the Newark airport from three West African countries. Hickox spent the weekend in a tent in New Jersey before travelling to the home of her boyfriend, a nursing student at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
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"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.
Maine Governor Paul LePage, who cancelled campaign events on Wednesday to keep tabs on the situation, commended all health care workers who have volunteered in Africa to treat Ebola patients. But he said the state must be "vigilant" to protect others.
State law allows a judge to grant temporary custody of someone if health officials demonstrate "a clear and immediate public health threat."
The state's court filing was expected late on Wednesday or early Thursday, officials said. If a judge grants the state's request, then Hickox will appeal the decision on constitutional grounds, Siegel said.